Pritzker Celebrates New Infrastructure Program With Stops In Champaign-Urbana

Governor J.B. Pritkzer

Gov. J.B. Pritzker shakes hands at the Champaign Public Works facility Wednesday, where he promoted the benefits of the state's Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan. On the right, with her back to the camera, St. Rep. Carol Ammons.

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Governor J.B. Pritzker says the infrastructure legislation he signed into law last month means jobs for Illinois --- both in the short term and in the years to come. Pritzker made two stops in Champaign-Urbana Wednesday to promote the $48 billion, six-year Rebuild Illinois capital development package.

The governor held his first media event at the Champaign Public Works building, to talk about how the $48 billion infrastructure plan will pay for several local transportation projects. They include the rebuilding of the I-75/I-57 interchange ($20 million), bridge replacements and resurfacing for I-57 (more than $40 million), widening and resurfacing Prospect Avenue in Champaign from Springfield Avenue to I-74 (nearly $20 million), and replacement of I-74 bridge superstructures over Market Street, the Canadian National railroad tracks and Township Road 158 on the outskirts of Champaign ($30 million).

The governor says the six-year plan will mean tens of thousands of construction jobs in the state. And he says it will also secure more jobs by preserving Illinois’ position as a central hub for commerce and transportation.

“We’re an essential part of the supply chain for companies all across America,” said Pritzker. “That means jobs. But not if we let our infrastructure crumble.”

Pritzker said the state had fallen behind on infrastructure maintenance projects. But he said Rebuild Illinois, the state’s first capital development plan in ten years, would turn things around.

“The fiscal problems that we face are the result of years of disinvestment and passing the buck,” said Pritzker. “Those days are over. We’re rebuilding the interchange (referring to the interstate interchange just two miles from the Champaign Public Works facility where the governor spoke). We’re investing in the entire region. We’re rebuilding Illinois.”

Pritzker was joined by his lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, acting Transportation Secretary Omer Osman and local officials, including State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) and Champaign County Board Chair Geraldo Rosales (D-Champaign).

Pritzker, a Democrat, also made a point of expressing his thanks for the support of two area Republican lawmakers. State Rep. Mike Marron and Senator Chapin Rose voted for the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure package, even though they didn’t attend the Champaign event. The governor thanked Marron and Rose again a couple of hours later, when he appeared at the Illini Union on University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus to highlight Rebuild Illinois funding for higher education projects.

Money for higher education projects make up a small portion of the Rebuild Illinois budget, about $2.9 billion. But Gov. Pritzker said that funding, and other money for higher education in the state budget, were investments that would move public higher education in Illinois into the future and away from what he called the “fiscal irresponsibility” of previous years.

“We’re rebuilding the public’s confidence in our state’s colleges and universities as world class institutions that they are and as economic engines in communities across our entire state,” said Pritzker.

Pritzker was joined at his Illini Union appearance by four public university presidents: Tim Killeen of the University of Illinois, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz, Chicago State University President Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott and Southern Illinois University interim President Kevin Dorsey, as well as U of I Urbana Chancellor Robert Jones. All of them thanked the governor and lawmakers for the new state funding their campuses were receiving from the Rebuild Illinois plan.

In the case of the U of I, the Rebuild Illinois funds includes $686 million for construction, repairs and renovation across the university system, including $395 million for the Urbana/Champaign campus, including the renovation of Altgeld Hall. The Urbana campus will also benefit from $100 million towards the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a collaboration for the development of quantum technology based at the University of Chicago.

Meanwhile, the U of I Chicago campus is receiving $98 million for a Computer Design Research and Learning Center. And the Springfield campus is receiving $35 million for a new Library Learning Student Success Center.

“Improved learning facilities will help make our campuses even more attractive going forward, helping stem the state’s student out-migration and continuing to push towards 93-thousand students system wide by 2021,” said U of I President Killeen, referring to the university’s goal of raising enrollment 15% from 2017 levels.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pritzker noted funding for new science buildings at Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois Universities, a renovated library building at Illinois State, a Computer Science and Technology Center at Northern Illinois University, and a simulated Hospital Nursing Lab at Chicago State University.

Rebuild Illinois includes $680 million for new construction and deferred maintenance at community colleges. That includes $100,000 for chemistry lab renovations at Parkland College in Champaign and a new Clock Tower Center for Danville Area Community College.

While the governor and other officials celebrated the benefits of the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan on Wednesday, the increased taxes and fees needed to pay for it were only discussed when reporters asked about it. Those increases include a 19 cent hike in Illinois’ gasoline tax, doubling the rate. The new rate took effect July 1st.

In defending the increase, Gov. Pritzker noted that the state gasoline tax rate had remained the same since 1990, and would be even higher today if it had risen in past years along with the inflation rate. It will now do so, under a provision passed by lawmakers along with the Rebuild Illinois plan.

Pritzker said the gas tax increase represented an investment in Illinois’ infrastructure that would be paid back with better-functioning roads and bridges, reduced accidents, and more construction jobs.

“If we want things to go in the right direction in the state of Illinois, we’ve got to make the right investments now,” said Pritzker.

Story source: WILL