Port of Chicago Wants More Funds to Fix Aging Infrastructure

The Illinois Ports Association requested $100 million for the Illinois International Port District at Chicago

The inclusion of $35 million in funding for state port districts in Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget is "awesome" but more money will be needed to repair the Port of Chicago's aging infrastructure, a port executive said.

The Illinois Ports Association had requested $250 million for all 19 Illinois port districts, including $100 million for the Illinois International Port District that oversees the Port of Chicago on the city's South Side, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Clayton Harris, the international district's executive director, said that while the funding isn't enough, he's pleased the General Assembly has started to recognize the ports' significance as a contributor to the state's economy.

"It's nowhere near what we need — but it's awesome," said Harris, a former prosecutor and state transportation official who has run the district since 2016. "We were never in the conversation before."

Pritzker signed the $40 billion state budget on Wednesday.

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There's a laundry list of issues that need to be addressed at the Chicago port. The international district wants to renovate the Lake Calumet dock wall and pave the roadway between the dock wall and the transit sheds. Old rail needs to be removed and new transit sheds built. The fire suppression system needs to be replaced and around a mile of extra rail is required.

"We run from one patch to another," Harris said.

The Illinois International Port District has struggled in recent years. A 2013 audit discovered messy record-keeping and a lack of general oversight. Without any tax money, the district had $34.4 million in liabilities and an operating deficit of $1.1 million in 2015.

This year, it's projected to have $18.8 million in liabilities and a working income of $800,000, after efforts were made to clear and rent out district land and properties. And the state annulled a nearly four-decade-old $15 million loan, Harris said.

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District board member Paul Chialdikas said the fortunes of the port have improved as Chicago has become a more desirable location for shipping, because goods can go both east and west.

"If we invest properly and build the infrastructure properly, we can win," Chialdikas said.

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