Chicago-area lawmaker says city deserves larger share of road funding

Andrew Thomason

Some Chicagoland lawmakers are upset over one area where downstate has an advantage over its metropolitan counterpart: state road money.

Too much money is spent on downstate Illinois roads and something has to be done about it now, according to Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero.

"It has been a long-held myth that Chicago and northeast Illinois has been bastioning in all kinds of funding as it relates to the road fund," Sandoval said.

Illinois Department of Transportation District 1, which includes Chicago and its suburbs, receives about 45 percent of the funds for upkeep of roads and bridges. The other eight districts divvy up the remaining 55 percent.

Sandoval wants to flip the 20-year-old funding system, giving the Chicago area 55 percent of the road money and the rest of the state 45 percent.

But downstate lawmakers say they will put their political weight behind blocking the change.   

"This is one issue that is not partisan," said Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican. "You get south of I-80 and he isn't going to get much Democrat support ... and I don't know of any downstate Republican that will give him any support on this."

A report issued by the legislature's research unit at the behest of Sandoval shows that District 1 handles half of all the traffic in Illinois but only has about 17 percent of the roads.

Sandoval says money should follow use and population, not geographical area. Chicago lawmakers insist District 1 isn't getting its fair share. They say because of the growing suburban population, their area desperately needs to upgrade roads.

Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, acknowledges Chicago's road needs but says the city’s problem isn't an isolated case.

"Everybody has additional needs, there is no question about it. I know District 1 has needs but so does the rest of the state," Sullivan said.

Sullivan and other opponents of Sandoval's plan say the current system has worked since its inception. To give such a small area more money doesn't make sense.

"Two-thirds or more of the system is located downstate and we have to take care of the system all over Illinois," said Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria.

Risinger also points to the state's mass transit fund, of which about 90 percent goes to Chicagoland, leaving only 10 percent for the rest of the state.

If the road money formula isn't changed, the whole state suffers, according to Chicago lawmakers. In addition to having more than half of the state's population and the majority of the traffic, District 1 is the epicenter of Illinois' economy, proponents say.

"Chicago and the northeast suburbs are the economic engine (of the state) so it makes sense that the whole states benefits from us," said Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat. "We are not taking anything from downstate, they are still benefiting, just in other programs and other dollars that we send down."

To accomplish his goal, Sandoval says he wants to insert language into law that would mandate 55 percent of the funds go to District 1. Sandoval says that IDOT officials can't be trusted to split the funds fairly.

With a large number of downstate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supporting the current setup, Sandoval is facing an uphill battle. If he does get the funds swap out of the legislature, it still has to get Gov. Pat Quinn's signature.

Officials in the governor's office say they will fully evaluate the plan before supporting or opposing it.

Andrew Thomason can be reached at (217) 782-6882 orandrew.thomason@sj-r.com.