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NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus A road grinder sprays asphalt into the back of a tractor-trailer Friday morning on Shooting Park Road in Peru. Local street and highway departments have been seeing slightly less motor fuel tax money available for projects as cars have become more efficient. The fuel tax is based on gallons sold, not the amount of money spent on gas.
The stream of state gasoline tax money has been shrinking, and state, city, county and township highway departments have been able to resurface fewer miles of roads in recent years.
La Salle County highway engineer Larry Kinzer noted state motor fuel tax is a per-gallon tax, and not based on the price.
“Newer vehicles use less per gallon,” Kinzer said.
But that’s only one of the reasons the state motor fuel tax fund has been shrinking. State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said in the past 10 years, the state has been “sweeping” much of the fuel tax money into other funds, such as paying for transportation department workmen’s comp costs, bridge inspections, state police and even areas with no relationship to transportation.
A new, bipartisan state coalition is seeking a capital bill, looking for new, definitive pay-as-you-go funding streams for roads and transit and seeking guarantees that funding designated for roads goes only for that purpose.
“Whatever revenue stream is agreed upon, there needs to be a lock box. We don’t want to take a hard vote and have that money transferred out for different expenses,” said Rezin, who hosted a luncheon for area highway commissioners and mayors this week — a meeting that was attended by state transportation secretary Annn Karen Schneider.
Rezin has not committed to specifically support impact fees, registration fees and new fuel taxes or formulas, such as basing state motor fuel tax on sales receipts and prices rather than a flat rate per gallon. However, she does stand against diverting road funds into other parts of the state budget.
State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said it’s true that the state has been sweeping money — up to $700 million — into areas other than road work. He said he has passed bills in the past, with help from the downstate caucus, to set “some of that money back” into the local road fund and state construction fund.
“Where you run into problems with other groups is, whatever you take from the general revenue fund, you have to find a place to replace it from somewhere else,” he said, adding that the state “operates off of 900 separate funds.”
He said when a fund runs short, state officials have to either end, cut or find a new way to fund a program. He said some of the “sweep” for workmen’s compensation had been done with excess funds going into Illinois Department of Transportation.
The Transportation For Illinois Coalition “is looking deep in the budget to try to find ways we can find a consistent revenue source for transportation,” Rezin said.
Kinzer said Schneider also noted that a federal authorization for road funding expires this year, so local highway departments face budgeting uncertainty there.
Kinzer said it also was good this week for the highway commissioners and mayors to be able to tell Schneider what’s working and what’s not and to ask her questions.
A 2013 assessment of Illinois’ transportation system finds that it is broken, and if no significant investment is made in state transportation funding, 1 in every 3 miles of roads and 1 in every 10 bridges will be in unacceptable condition by 2018.
The total backlog of miles needing attention will grow rapidly as Illinois Jobs Now ends. The total backlog grew from 2,560 miles in 2012 to 3,257 miles in 2013. By 2015, the number grows by another 1,000 miles to 4,294 miles in disrepair. And by 2018, it will hit 5,047 miles
More than 780 bridges are in less than acceptable condition right now in Illinois. Assuming a 50-year lifespan for bridges, another 774 bridges will hit the unacceptable list over the next five years. The total bill just to maintain the current system of bridges, assuming an average cost of $3.5 million per bridge, is a whopping $5.4 billion.