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End of Highway Trust Fund looms; Durbin urges long-term fix

From Illinois Business Journal news services

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the Highway Trust Fund set to expire at the end of May, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, this week warned that a short-term extension would hurt Illinois transportation and infrastructure projects, economic development and job growth.

Without Congressional action, he said, funding to states and mass transit agencies across the country will come to a halt – putting projects in Illinois and across the country in jeopardy.

A short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund would only perpetuate the uncertainty that is already preventing major construction projects from moving forward, he said. Design, construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure supports 138,701 full-time jobs in Illinois.

“We cannot build highways one month at a time. You need long-term funding to build a highway, to repair a bridge, to commit to mass transit modernization. We cannot patch our way to prosperity,” Durbin said. “If we are going to accept our responsibility to be a great nation and a great leader in the world economy, we need an infrastructure to support it.”

In a statement, the senator said more than 80 percent of Illinois’ transportation spending comes from the Highway Trust Fund. In total, Illinois receives approximately $2 billion in annual transportation funds from the federal government, including nearly $600 million for transit.

In a statement, Durbin said this is what the Highway Trust Fund means for local highways and bridges:

– In Illinois, 15 percent of major roads – and 35 percent of major urban roads – are in poor condition. Driving on these roads costs Illinois motorists $3.7 billion a year in vehicle maintenance, which averages to nearly $448 per motorist.

– Illinois is home to 4,187 structurally deficient bridges out of more than 145,000 bridges that were classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete nationwide.

– Illinois received $1.4 billion in federal funding for highway and bridge repairs last year. This year, the President’s proposed increasing investments in Illinois highway and bridge projects to $1.677 billion. With a short-term extension instead of a robust, long-term transportation funding bill, Illinois will only receive $1.386 billion for highway and bridges – far less than is necessary to upgrade and maintain the state’s roadways and bridges.

This, he said, is what the Highway Trust Fund means for mass transit systems:

– Illinois receives approximately $600 million in federal funding for mass transit programs every year from the federal government. Federal support for transit programs is especially critical for northeastern Illinois, where federal dollars provide 80 percent of capital funding for transit.

– The president’s transportation plan included $807 million funding for Illinois mass transit – another necessary increase over previous funding levels to support ongoing projects and for buses, subway, light rail, and commuter rail systems. If Republicans in Congress fail to pass a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund and instead pass a short-term extension, Illinois would only receive $523 million – a much smaller investment in the transit programs that serve Illinois communities statewide.

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