(TNS) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state road officials released details of a $23.5 billion road plan that is being fueled with higher gasoline taxes and various vehicle fees approved by lawmakers last spring.
But while Pritzker and others touted the economic and transportation benefits of the revived road plan, they also made assurances that spending on the plan will be transparent and project selections will be above board.
They were forced to take that step because of the federal raid on state Sen. Martin Sandoval's Springfield and Cicero offices and his home. The Chicago Democrat was one of the biggest cheerleaders for a new road capital plan and the higher fuel taxes needed to make it work.
The federal search warrant stated among other things agents were looking for communications with several Illinois Department of Transportation officials. Pritzker has said no subpoenas have been issued to IDOT. However, some Republicans have used the raid as justification to try to repeal the gas tax increase.
"There is no acceptance in anyway whatsoever, in fact a full-throated rejection by my administration, by this IDOT, of any of the deception, the corruption that has been uncovered or has yet to be uncovered," Pritzker said. "We are being extremely focused and careful to make sure that every dollar that gets spent in this capital plan is done completely above board and done the right way and with taxpayers in mind. Every bit of this is receiving an extra focus, an extra lens, to make sure it is done above board and everything is on the up and up."
Comptroller Susana Mendoza attended the news conference and said her office "will aim to break out as many of these payments as possible so that we can confirm that normal state spending is occurring."
Acting Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said the road plan is twice the size it would have been without the new capital plan passed last spring. The plan covers $23.5 billion of spending on road, bridges and other transportation projects over a six-year period. The total includes federal matching funds, but Osmon said the state will now be picking up a larger part of a project's cost.
"That will give us the flexibility of matching any federal fund," he said.
The primary revenue source for the expanded road plan is the gasoline tax lawmakers doubled last spring from 19-cents a gallon to 38-cents a gallon. It was the first increase in the tax since 1990. Between the stagnant fuel tax and increasing fuel economy of cars and trucks, the tax was no longer producing the revenue the state needed to keep up with road and bridge repairs.
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the highway program will put thousands of people to work across the state.
State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said that's just what the state needs. "In a state where we need to rebuild our economy, one of the best things we can do is invest in our infrastructure," Spain said.
One of the potential beneficiaries of that is George Alexander of Springfield, a member of Laborers Local 477. He said work on road projects usually means more shifts per week and longer work days.
"The last four or five years there hasn't been much highway work at all," he said. "This is a life-changing experience. This increases your money. You're able to take vacations and go out to eat."
Here are some projects slated for the Springfield area during the current fiscal year.
- Resurface seven miles of Interstate 55 south of Springfield for $19 million.
- New bridge deck on Interstate 72 over Wabash Avenue and the Norfolk Southern Railroad at a cost of $7.5 million.
- Resurfacing Interstate 55 from Glenarm to the Lake Springfield bridge for $19 million.
- Resurfacing and bridge work on nine miles of Interstate 55 from Illinois 16 to Illinois 108 for $22 million.
- Resurface 10 miles of Interstate 55 from Business I-55 to Illinois 10 for $18 million.
- Spending $1.3 million for engineering and land acquisition for a new U.S. 67/Illinois 100 bridge over the Illinois River at Beardstown.
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