Illinois' infrastructure sorely needs investment

Posted: May. 12, 2019 12:01 am

To The Herald-Whig:

As former U.S. secretaries of transportation, we both have worked on legislation that has improved transportation across our country. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA, in 1991 and Moving Ahead for Progress-21, or MAP-21, in 2012 led to fundamental changes in the way states and metropolitan areas invest in roads, bridges and transit.

In our home state of Illinois, lawmakers have not passed a state capital bill for transportation in nine years. Our infrastructure is in such dire shape that it's causing safety hazards and costing people and businesses time and money. We can see it in Chicago in the falling concrete at Union Station and lurching trains and buses. Across the state, roads connecting farms, manufacturing and universities are crumbling.

The signs are clear: The time for Illinois to invest in transportation is now. However, increased funding alone will not be enough. We need a new kind of capital bill with reforms that earn the public's confidence that funding will be wisely spent.

The following principles should guide Springfield in developing a new bill:

º Sustainability: Costs should be paid primarily by those who use the system and gain the most benefits -- not through bonding and more debt. It's time to increase the state gas tax, which hasn't been raised in 30 years, and index it to inflation so that revenues keep pace with ever-rising costs.

º Accountability: Taxpayers deserve to know their dollars are going to the best transportation projects, based on data, not political whims.

º Flexibility: Revenues should be allocated to meet the needs of all users -- yes, roads and bridges, but also transit, intercity rail, bicycle, trails, pedestrian and safety infrastructure. Policies must ensure investments benefit people and communities that have been historically excluded from the economy.

The Trump administration and Congress have renewed conversations about a national infrastructure bill -- but Illinois cannot wait on Washington. More than half of U.S. states and most of Illinois' neighbors have raised new transportation revenues and rethought their own grant programs and policies. To stay competitive, Illinois must too.

Ray LaHood

Former U.S. Department of Transportation ?secretary, 2009-13

Sam Skinner

Former U.S. DOT secretary, 1989-91