Gov. Pat Quinn signed an approximately $1 billion capital spending plan on Tuesday intended to create jobs and help repair and improve Illinois roads and bridges after a harsh winter.
The Chicago Democrat approved the bipartisan legislation that also will provide lawmakers with opportunities to attend popular ribbon-cutting ceremonies in an election year. The plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn't have enough time to study where the money would go.
Transportation officials said the money will go toward "shovel ready" road projects that are beginning this summer. Quinn estimated that the projects will create some 14,300 jobs. Most of the 210 projects include resurfacing portions of major roadways around Illinois and repairing bridges.
"It is imperative for all of us that we make investments to make sure we take good care of these roads and bridges, relieve congestions, get people to their destination as quickly as possible, as safely as possible," he said standing near a downtown Chicago interstate exchange where construction work is ongoing.
Some lawmakers supporting the repair program said it was necessary because the $31 billion "Illinois Jobs Now" program that Quinn signed in 2009 is set to run out of road funding sometime this year. But Transportation Department spokeswoman Paris Ervin said that $115 million will be doled out this year for various projects.
The winter repair plan will be paid for by selling bonds and paying back the loan with revenue from retired bonds. It was scaled back to gain Republican support amid concerns that the state couldn't afford a higher price tag. Democrats failed to gather votes to extend an income tax increase set to roll back in January, potentially creating a loss of $1.8 billion in revenue.
Among the projects are $48 million for replacing the bridge, lighting, surveillance and sign boards on the inbound Interstate 55 in Chicago. Other projects include resurfacing parts of Interstate 57.
"After the historic winter we experienced, many of our roads and bridges are in desperate need of attention," Erica Borggren, the acting head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a statement. "This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs."
Some lawmakers and a transportation group had proposed paying for road construction with a fuel tax increase, and ending the practice of diverting funds earmarked for road projects to other parts of the budget. That plan was opposed by gas station owners who say the state's fuel tax is already too high.
Quinn is seeking a second full term with a challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.