Illinois highways come with high costs, poor conditions, report finds

Illinois highways come with high costs, poor conditions, report finds

Taxpayers pay too much for the rough conditions they find on Illinois roads, according to a report by the Reason Foundation. Bad pavement and too much congestion come with upkeep costs that are among the highest in the U.S.

Illinois roads ranked 40th in the U.S. – dropping 12 spots in five years – for cost-effectiveness and conditions, according to a report by the Reason Foundation.

Illinois’ low rank is thanks to ineffectual state spending on highways, leading to poor pavement conditions and high congestion in urban areas, researcher Baruch Feigenbaum said.

“Not the worst in any one category, certainly not the best in any one category, but trending average to below average for most of the categories which explains the ranking of 40th,” Feigenbaum said.

The Annual Highway Report scores each state across 13 categories including urban and rural pavement conditions, traffic fatalities, administrative costs per mile and spending per mile of highway.

The report found Illinoisans pay $123,500 per state-controlled mile of highway, scoring 39th for total spending per mile.

Feigenbaum said that is too much for a poor return.

“I would say overall they’re getting relatively bad bang for their buck because there’s a relatively high level of spending and also relatively poor pavement conditions,” Feigenbaum said. “Given the cost of Illinois, we know that the spending is going to be a little high but the quality of the roads and bridges should match and it doesn’t.”

Illinois is in line to receive at least $17 billion during the next several years from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill signed Nov. 15 by President Biden.

“We have dollars coming to Illinois from the federal infrastructure bill,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Nov. 16. “That helps speed up all of the projects on our multi-year plan.”

That multi-year plan Pritzker enacted in 2019, coined “Rebuild Illinois,” doubled the state’s gas tax from 19 to 38 cents per gallon and increased other fees on drivers to fund $45 billion in infrastructure improvements.

Illinoisans now pay the second highest gas tax in the nation.

Data from the Illinois Comptroller’s office shows nearly $1.4 billion in motor fuel taxes collected in fiscal year 2019. That revenue increased to more than $2.4 billion for fiscal year 2021.

Private vehicle use taxes also increased from $53.1 million in fiscal year 2019 to $61.6 million in fiscal year 2021.

Reason’s most recent report is through fiscal year 2019, but does not account for the doubling of the state’s gas tax.

Feigenbaum said Illinois needs to bring spending per mile under control, so it does not repeat New Jersey’s doubling of a gas tax without improving pavement conditions.

“It’s really important both for the increasing of the gas tax and for the federal infrastructure bill that the state has a process for actually spending that money wisely,” Feigenbaum said.

Illinois recently improved how it decides to spend transportation dollars, with Pritzker in late August signing House Bill 253. The new law calls for funding state infrastructure through a targeted, merit-based approach that prioritizes renovations and helps the greatest number of drivers – rather than based on which politician gets a photo op next to a shiny new bridge. It is expected to deliver better taxpayer value, similar to Virginia’s SMART Scale program.

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