IDOT chief: Stopgap bill would prevent likely project shutdowns
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) may be forced to shut down all of its 800-plus projects around the state next month if stopgap funding is not received by the end of June.
Randy Blankenhorn, Illinois' secretary of transportation, recently outlined the grave situation the department is facing and urged lawmakers to take action to pass a temporary budget to fund IDOT through the end of the year.
“I’m here today to tell you that we are on the brink of what was once unthinkable – the suspension of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s construction program,” Blankenhorn said during a recent press conference. “We were able to avoid this scenario a year ago with the passage of a capital appropriation that was signed by the governor, who clearly understands the role that Illinois plays as a transportation hub of North America.”
But without stopgap funding, Blankenhorn said he fears the department will have no other choice, but to shut down projects throughout the state within a few weeks.
“I can’t overstate the consequences of inaction," Blankenhorn said. "IDOT currently has more than 800 active projects up and running up and down the state, totaling more than $2 billion. Without stopgap agreement, those projects will be shut down next month.”
Appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in January 2015, Blankenhorn heads an agency of 13 offices and divisions that employs approximately 5,000 employees and oversees a $2.8 billion operating budget and more than $3.2 billion in capital projects.
A shutdown would put approximately 25,000 employees out of work, and the department would be unable to execute any of its new projects, which are part of the $2 billion fiscal year 2017 construction program, Blankenhorn said.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding that belong to Illinois will be unable to be turned around to serve our state’s needs, and to invest in our state’s infrastructure,” Blankenhorn said.
What many may not realize, Blankenhorn said, is that halting projects only to start them back up again at a later date adds on tens of millions of dollars in avoidable costs to ensure work zones are safe.
“As always, the safety of the travelling public is our top priority,” Blankenhorn said. “Even more severe are the real-life impacts that this shutdown would have on so many of our residents. Our construction projects not only improve transportation in our state, but they circulate billions of dollars in our communities.”
One single project means construction workers are able to get paid, support their families and invest in their local economies. None of this will be possible, Blankenhorn said, if IDOT stops work on its projects.
“There are other ramifications,” Blankenhorn said. “Six hundred million dollars in fiscal year '17 funding that’s (anticipated) to be shared with local governments -- for things like patching, building sidewalks, buying salt for the winter – can no longer be distributed. The list of negative consequences goes on and on and on.”
Blankenhorn said Rauner has taken the right approach.
“What the governor is proposing is a reasonable solution that will allow our programs to continue seamlessly," Blankenhorn said. "There is only one responsible solution on the table now. I urge the members of the General Assembly back to Springfield to work to pass the stopgap funding bill that we all need.”