The Illinois Department of Transportation focused on the current and future infrastructure needs of communities, regions, and the state during a stop in Macomb. IDOT Acting Secretary Randy Blankenhorn spoke to a crowd at the Spoon River College Community Outreach Center as part of a 32 city listening session tour across the state.
“Rural Illinois is vitally important to our success. We are still an agricultural state to a large degree. How do we make sure our small towns stay vibrant? How do we make sure we are giving opportunities for them to succeed as well as our bigger cities? That’s the kind of thing we want to talk about,” Blankenhorn said.
Local Infrastructure Concerns
Those in attendance voiced a desire to see U.S. 34 become a four lane highway, for the Macomb bypass to be paved, and for Amtrak to continue offering twice a day service to the area via the line that runs between Quincy and Chicago.
Spoon River College President Curt Oldfield said the school depends on having a road system that works. “We have students that come from a 45 to 60 mile radius every day to class who travel a lot of our two lane infrastructure throughout this IDOT district,” said Oldfield.
Western Illinois University's biggest priority is the Amtrak service. “That’s one of our main modes of transportation for many of our students,” said WIU President Jack Thomas.
“Over 50% of our students come from the Chicago land area and many of our students come from low socio-economic backgrounds and if it had not been for Amtrak coming to Macomb and other places it would hinder us in terms of our growth and because of Amtrak we feel it has sustained our university as well as helped us in terms of our enrollment."
Bruce Biagini with the Macomb Chamber of Commerce shared the group’s proposal to toll the interstate highways as a way of collecting more revenue. He said it could be efficiently done with electronic tolling so there would be no need to staff toll booths.
“You can’t get from the east coast to the west coast without going through Illinois. We’ve got them blocked off. They either have to take 80 or 70, said Biagini.
“I love taxing people out of state for the benefit of people in state.”
IDOT's Blankenhorn said revenue sources are not consistent enough to maintain current infrastructure or fund new developments. “We have a big transportation system that needs maintenance year after year after year and we can’t have these peaks and valleys of funding and make sure that we have the ability to meet our maintenance needs much less the investment that we need to make in modernizing our system and making some key strategic expansions of our system,” Blankenhorn said.
Blankenhorn said there has to be a better way to fund IDOT and that he’s a believer in charging user fees. But even with increased revenue, there are always more needs than money. He said IDOT plans to move into what he called "a more transparent decision making process" that focuses more on performance. He said that's where he hopes the public can help in determining how to best prioritize projects.
Blankenhorn said Illinois has the third largest interstate and bridge system in the county. He predicts that if something isn't done by 2020, Illinois will have 5,000 miles of road in need of immediate attention. He said IDOT is starting to look at how to invest in infrastructure in a sustainable way with a funding source that grows over time.
But he said IDOT has some work to do before it considers increasing revenue streams.
“Job one for any agency, we’ve got to show value to the tax payer. We’ve got to show that we are spending your money wisely.”