SPRINGFIELD — The Blagojevich administration is preparing to hold some major road projects hostage in exchange for Republican support of a new statewide construction program.
In unveiling the state’s road building program for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Tim Martin said Friday that Republicans need to support the construction program or face the likelihood of losing $80 million in projects in their districts.
Republicans said the election-year threat would not soften their opposition to Blagojevich’s $3.2 billion construction program, which has been in limbo for three years.
The GOP has fought the plan, saying the governor has not proposed a viable way to pay for the money he needs to borrow to finance the package.
"I’m not going to vote for a bad program even if they take my projects away. It’s not good for the citizens of Illinois," said state Sen. Dale Risinger, a Peoria Republican who formerly worked for IDOT.
"All I’m looking for is responsible government. The governor needs to show us a revenue stream to pay this sucker off," said state Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare. "We’ve been used to threats. What else is new?"
According to the governor’s road plan, the state would spend $1.97 billion next year to improve highways throughout the state. Over the next seven years, the tally would be $10.5 billion.
Projects set to start in July include $1.5 million for planning and engineering aimed at widening U.S. 51 south of Pana to Centralia from two to four lanes. Also on tap are new bridges in Dwight, Clinton and DeKalb and a major resurfacing project on Interstate 55 in Normal.
Interstate 57 in Williamson County would get a major makeover, including a new interchange in Marion, as well as new bridges and pavement along sections of the Southern Illinois roadway.
In the Quad Cities, the plan calls for spending $1.3 million for improvements to Illinois 92 south of Interstate 280.
Northern Illinois University is targeted for a series of new roadways on the western edge of the campus in DeKalb.
All of those projects, which would be financed through proceeds from the state’s tax on motor fuel and federal dollars, could move forward without Republican support.
At issue for the governor is his separate capital construction plan, which calls for more road building and school construction, but relies on the state borrowing money to finance it. The borrowing requires Republican votes.
Martin said if the capital plan isn’t OK’d this spring that IDOT would strip $80 million out of the regular road fund to assure a dangerous stretch of Interstate 55 north of Joliet is widened.
He wouldn’t identify which projects wouldn’t get funded, but said the cuts would focus on expansion projects.
"We’re not going to sacrifice lives for ribbon cuttings," said Martin.
Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said the governor has painted himself into a corner by diverting money out of the state’s road fund to help pay for new programs in other areas of state government.
"If it hadn’t been for the mismanagement of this administration, we wouldn’t be in this mess," said Watson.
Road work ahead
Following are costs and descriptions for some of the projects the Illinois Department of Transportation expects to start in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
- $5 million for improvements to Interstate 39 south of Minonk
- $2.5 million to resurface Interstate 55 north of Normal
- $1.3 million to replace Illinois 17 bridge east of Dwight
- $1.1 million to replace Illinois 10 bridge west of Clinton
- $835,000 to replace Illinois 23 bridge eight miles south of Streator
- $600,000 to upgrade Illinois 18 bridge over railroad tracks near Streator
- $325,000 for improvements to Illinois 122 bridge over Sugar Creek near Minier
- $200,000 for improvements to Illinois 117 bridge over Walnut Creek near Eureka
- $200,000 to acquire land for upgrade at Veterans Parkway intersection with Morris Avenue, Greenwood Avenue and Cabintown Road in Bloomington.
SOURCE: Illinois Department of Transportation; Compiled by Kurt Erickson