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Illinois Highways Need Up To $15 Billion For Maintenance Over Next 10 Years

road construction
Gary Brown via Flickr (gsbrown99)

Driving around Illinois, chances are you’ve experience the jarring crack of a tire hitting the bottom of a pothole. This week, acting transportation secretary Matt Magalis put a cost on that feeling: between $13 billion and $15 billion.

That’s how much Magalis says Illinois will need over the next 10 years just for highway maintenance. And that figure does not include what it would take to add much-needed capacity to the state’s most traffic-choked highways.

Illinois Department of Transportation officials laid out billions of dollars of necessary repairs and upgrades to the state’s roads, bridges, railways and public transit Thursday.

“Unfortunately, as you can tell, traveling around our state, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate faster than we can maintain it,” he said. “We have a large percentage of our assets that are getting to the end of their useful lives.”

This comes a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he wanted to approve a plan to improve the state’s infrastructure this spring, the first in almost a decade.

Requests for money from across state government and beyond are starting to pile up.

The leaking roofs, aging plumbing, and failing heating and cooling systems at state facilities could cost up to $7.8 billion and, at public colleges and universities, $6.5 billion, according to the Capital Development Board, the agency responsible for state construction. And the Illinois State Board of Education says deferred maintenance at local schools totals around $9.6 billion.

I-80 Bridge And Beyond

According to the transportation department, the state needs about $250 million for aviation facilities – not including O’Hare and Midway airports; $19.1 billion for public transit; $800 million for passenger rail; $4 billion for freight rail; and hundreds of millions for locks and dams.

One particular project of interest for lawmakers was a bridge on Interstate 80 in Joliet. Mayor Bob O'Dekirk had threatened to divert traffic from the bridge because of safety concerns. Transportation officials at Thursday’s hearing said that overhauling or replacing it is a top priority in a potential infrastructure plan.

The bridge was rated in critical condition last April — a 2 on a 9-point scale.

But the transportation department’s bureau chief for structures said they’ve done additional inspections to ensure it can bear the weight of the more than 40,000 vehicles that cross it daily. And they're planning $5 million in repairs this spring.

Still, Magalis said funding to rehabilitate the bridge will likely be a part of a larger infrastructure plan: “It's fair to say that this bridge is one of our top priorities in terms of structures that we have in the state.”

Public input

While senators heard testimony from state agencies, elsewhere in the Capitol state representatives fielded requests for money for more pre-K classrooms and other deferred maintenance in schools, upgrades to Navy Pier, 10,000 units of affordable housing, and replacement of drinking water pipes that contain lead.

Both committees will continue meeting throughout the spring to put together a plan.

“We want to lay a groundwork a path forward for what we believe can be a capital investment for the state that can be eventually voted this spring legislative session,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat.

Future Senate hearings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

- March 4 in Edwardsville

- March 18 in Decatur

- April 8 in Peoria

- April 22 in Elgin

- April 16 in Chicago

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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