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Local News

Interstate 80 money not yet on state agenda

Legislature goes into final days waiting on infrastructure proposal

It’s three days until the scheduled end of the legislative session, and it’s a guessing game as to whether there will be a capital bill that includes funding for Interstate 80.

Local state legislators said Tuesday that they don’t know if Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Rebuild Illinois” plan, which includes $1 billion to replace the Des Plaines River bridges and make other I-80 improvements, will come to them for a vote before the session is slated to end Friday.

“You’re going to have to talk to somebody in the majority party.
I really have no idea,” said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield.

The Democratic governor has Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. However, local Democrats weren’t so sure, either.

“I know that that is still in negotiations,” state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said. “There are still a lot of moving parts right now. I know we have to have revenue for the capital proposal.”

Where the revenue comes from may be a sticking point for legislators.

“The focus has been on the gas tax, and, as you can imagine, that’s a tough political vote for a lot of people,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

Doubling the state gas tax to 38 cents per gallon is one of 10 taxes, fees and revenue measures that Pritzker included with the release of “Rebuild Illinois” less than two weeks ago.

There are also higher fees for vehicle registration, higher taxes on liquor, and new state taxes on cable TV, video streaming, ride sharing and public parking – plus a few other funding measures.

“Rebuild Illinois” proposes
$41.5 billion for state infrastructure and capital spending over six years.

It does not spell out every project that would be funded, but it does specify four that are relevant to Joliet and Will County.

• The $1.01 billion slated for Interstate 80 includes replacement of the Des Plaines River bridges in a 16-mile reconstruction project running from Route 30 in New Lenox to Ridge Road in Minooka.

• An unspecified amount of money would be allotted to the long-awaited state funding of Joliet Junior College’s downtown campus building.

• $2.5 million is set aside for planning and engineering at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam for the Asian carp mitigation project.

• The Illinois State Police crime laboratory in Joliet would be replaced at a cost of $65.5 million, although it’s not clear that the new one would be in the Joliet area.

The I-80 project falls into what’s called “horizontal” infrastructure – roads and bridges – as opposed to “vertical” infrastructure, or buildings such as the JJC campus and state police lab.

“It appears that a capital bill for horizontal projects is more likely than one for vertical projects because the revenue for horizontal projects has been identified – mainly a doubling of the gas tax,” said state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet.

McGuire said gambling expansion may be proposed for vertical projects, rather than implementing the list of taxes and fees in “Rebuild Illinois.”

Gambling expansion could add five move casinos, including a south suburban casino, which has always been viewed locally as a threat to the two Joliet casinos because they would share much of the same market.

McGuire said that while the Legislature needs to pass a budget by the end of Friday, the session could be extended through the weekend or be reconvened in the summer to deal with the large plate of issues faced in the final week.

On Monday, the Legislature approved Pritzker’s proposal to put a progressive income tax on the ballot in November 2020 in the form of a constitutional amendment changing the flat tax.

On Tuesday, it rescinded restrictions on abortions.

A capital bill is still on the agenda. So is gambling expansion, legalization of recreational marijuana, and meeting the May 31 deadline for a budget.

“We’ve got a huge to-do list,” McGuire said.

Ed Maher, communications director for Operating Engineers Local 150 is confident that any significant spending for infrastructure will include money for the I-80 bridge. Local 150’s Fight Back campaign funds an electronic billboard at the bridges that tells motorists to cross it at their own risk.

“I’ve never seen such public outcry over a piece of infrastructure that I’ve seen from people in Joliet over the I-80 bridge and rightfully so,” Maher said.

John Greuling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, which started an I-80 Coalition to push for more state funding, said that “there seems to be a lot of momentum in Springfield to get a capital bill passed.”

Batinick said he does not know if a capital bill is coming or what shape it will take.

“They can plop it all down, and an hour later we all vote on it,” Batinick said.

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