Timing is everything.
Illinois has been operating without a budget since July 1, 2015. Colleges are shutting down, senior citizens are losing home health care assistance, mental health programs for assault victims are being cut.
Nonetheless, Governor Bruce Rauner announced late last week he wants Illinois lawmakers to approve a plan that would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to use a public-private partnership to add lanes to the Stevenson Expressway, a busy section of Interstate 55 in the Chicago area. Rauner's plan includes the possibility of tolls to cover the estimated $425 million cost of the 25-mile project that would add at least one lane to I-55 from I-355 to I-90/94. According to the Rauner administration, the expressway from Bolingbrook to Chicago's southwest side handles 170,000 vehicles a day, much of it commercial trucks, and regularly experiences traffic slowdowns.
However, Rauner's plan requires approval by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly at a time when lawmakers and governor still have not come to terms on the state's budget, effectively holding all state-funded agencies hostage until he and the legislature can agree.
"By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century," Rauner said in a news release. The state can enter private partnerships for freeway building and operation as long as the General Assembly approves but details about the potential private partnerships were not immediately available.
Rauner expects the project to be finished in 2019. "Relieving the congestion on this stretch of I-55 must be a priority for the state of Illinois," she said in the news release. "However, we must also recognize the state must be creative in addressing our transportation challenges."
Source: Daily Herald; Associated Press