Eye On Illinois: No shortage of uses for federal infrastructure funds

Life is all about perspective.

For example, I could grumble about the Interstate 88 construction that impedes my usual journey from home to visit my in-laws in Whiteside County and wonder who is paying for a 15-year, $14 billion tollway capital program. Or I could think about the thousands of jobs this work directly supports and the way the regional economy ultimately benefits from a safe, robust highway system.

As with most things, reality lies somewhere in the middle. There’s no sense pretending roadwork isn’t frustrating, especially when I have four kids and two dogs in the car. And $14 billion is a lot of money. It’s rarely wrong to question government spending at that scale.

But $14 billion — a 14 followed by nine zeroes — is only 0.7% of President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan, pegged at $2 trillion — a 2 with a dozen zeroes. Whether Biden’s plan is plausible exceeds my meager expertise, but simply having the idea on the table is enough for Illinois officials to start discussing what could be done with whatever share lands here.

The Regional Transit Authority, which pre-pandemic said it served 2 million weekday riders in six Northeastern Illinois counties, said repairs alone will cost about $20 billion. Last month the state released a third $250 million Rebuild Illinois installment as part of a three-year, $1.5 billion program to boost city, county and township road projects. Overall the initiative should pump $33.2 billion into transportation, from bike paths and pedestrian trails to freight lines and airplanes and beyond.

The Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association — which clearly has a vested interest — says the state has 2,303 structurally deficient bridges. The group also says poor road conditions lead to car owners spending an average $566 per year in vehicle repairs and reminds how road congestion can reduce individual and corporate productivity.

Biden’s plan far exceeds transportation infrastructure (a paltry $621 billion) to include $650 billion in public housing improvements, $45 billion for replacing lead water pipes and $28 billion for veterans hospitals and federal buildings. Again, while acknowledging those are staggering amounts of money, such ambitions also represent literally millions of skilled workers setting about improving the country, one job at a time.

For the average Illinoisan this talk doesn’t mean much until Congress acts. But if you pay attention to your local governments, chances are good there will be discussions about priority lists for projects and lobbying federal officials for help. Plenty will resist based on cost alone, others will embrace a chance to discuss direct, local investments in projects that can positively affect daily life and keep people working.

How do your local leaders see the issue? It’s all about perspective.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.