News Local/State

IDOT Officials Warn Budget Impasse Could Hurt Road Repairs

Highway sign along Interstate 72.

Highway sign along Interstate 72. Amanda Vinicky/IPR

The llinois Department of Transportation may be wrapping up its busy construction season, but the upcoming winter will mean more repairs for road crews to work on next summer. But that depends on getting a state budget in place first.

A lot of money for road construction comes from a separate fund than what's being debated in Springfield right now in the months-long budget stalemate. But some money comes from the same pot of cash that many human services and other state programs are vying for.

And if the budget impasse is dragged on, that could become a safety issue. Kensil Garnett is IDOT's region 3 engineer, serving half of Central Illinois. He says he'd like to see Illinois’ roads and bridges rated at about 90 percent "acceptable."

"With the current funding levels, we're not going to be able to achieve that," Garnett said Wednesday at an IDOT public input event in Champaign. "So, we're dropping off very, very rapidly to the tune of about 20 percent. So it's very, very bad."

Garnett says the coming winter will only exacerbate existing problems with Illinois' roadways.

And even more basic than new projects, Garnett says he's worried about keeping the lights and heat on for his workers and having enough diesel fuel to get them through the winter without a budget.

"When we do have (a budget) and we go to talk to that person that we're buying something from, they're like, 'Oh, you're with the state of Illinois, you have problems paying your bills so we're going to add a little bit more onto it for the simple fact that we have to cover yourself in case we maybe don't get paid."

Already, several construction projects that have been awarded, planned and assigned to a contractor have been put on hold because the legislature has yet to give IDOT the spending authority to start working.

As the state's budget stalemate drags on, cities and counties in Illinois are also not receiving their share of Illinois gas tax, which most municipalities use to buy road salt, in addition to using for other local repairs.

Governor Bruce Rauner has said he'd like to increase funding for road construction, but a political fight between him and the Democratically controlled legislature has brought the state into its fourth month without a budget.