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Illinois Roads Given Poor Rating, Highway Departments Blame Budget

Updated: Saturday, April 19 2014, 05:16 PM CDT
Crews at local highway departments agree that roads could be in much better condition, but their budgets are strapped after rising fuel and material costs. The problem is becoming even worse since some of their revenue has stayed the same for nearly two decades.

Having a smooth ride in Illinois is getting harder everyday. That's according to the Illinois Infrastructure Report Card that gives roads a D , ranking them as poor and at risk.

"They are in bad condition and it's an improvement over 4 years ago, but we do see worsening roads all the way around the state," said Sangamon County Highway Engineer, Tim Zahrn.

The Sangamon County Highway Department is responsible for 250 miles of roadway. Maintaining those roads has become a challenge with less revenue coming from property taxes and a $0.19 fuel tax  that hasn't budged.

"That state motor fuel tax has been the same since the early 1990's. There hasn't been a change in that state motor fuel tax so you've had pretty steady revenue over those 20 plus years, plus we have had rising costs," said Zahrn.

Higher expenses has hit small highways departments like Clear Lake Township especially hard.

"11 years ago we paid about 74 cents a gallon for road oil and last year we paid about $2.55 a gallon so there is a big fluxuation with that," said Highway Commissioner, Alex Lyons.

With costs on the rise, road projects have been put on hold.

"Normally we used to cover about half the roads every year, seal and go over them, but probably over the last few years we do about a third of the roads each year," said Lyons.

That means it may not be such an enjoyable ride for drivers.

"It can be dangerous to your car there is no doubt about it," said driver, Cheryl LaMaster.

Lamaster travels to Springfield from Chicago often for work. While it may be a bumpy ride, she isn't ready to pay more at the pump to fix the states roads.

"I agree it's a problem, but I don't know if the gas tax is the answer. It seems like everything has been put on gas instead of other ways. Maybe there is another way?," said LaMaster.

Officials at area highway departments say there may be another way to raise funds.  That would be through raising local property taxes. Either way, officials say revenue must be increased somehow if the state and drivers want to see improved roadways.

This past winter was no help to highway department's trying to save money. Sangamon County spent more than $300,000 salting, plowing and paying workers overtime.Illinois Roads Given Poor Rating, Highway Departments Blame Budget

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