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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 05:11 am

Hitting the streets

New subcommittee aims to handle ignored infrastructure

As administration after administration ignores the city’s fractured streets and crumbling sidewalks, aldermen are finally stepping in to face and fix years of neglected infrastructure needs.

A new subcommittee, co-chaired by Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney and Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, plans to hold four public meetings in different areas of the city over the next two months, soliciting residents for problems with sidewalks and streets and ideas for funding solutions.

With the community’s help, the subcommittee hopes to introduce the first long-term plan to avoid passing another problem on to future citizens.

“We haven’t done any real infrastructure investment for so long, and it’s not this administration’s fault — several administrations are accountable because they’ve ignored the whole thing,” Mahoney says. “It’s catching up with us.”

The subcommittee recently heard from the Quantum Growth Partnership, an initiative of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce that formed its own infrastructure subcommittee last spring to examine the city’s preservation, modernization and expansion needs. Kirk Brown, the subcommittee chairman, told aldermen that communities across the country struggle with failing infrastructure due to a decrease in state and federal funds and a worldwide increase in labor, fuel and construction supplies and costs.

As a result, Springfield — which, Brown says, should be spending $32 million annually on streets and bridges to meet conservative standards, but only spends around $3.6 million annually — sees a $28 million shortfall in construction needs.

“Certainly a business would be bankrupt and the result of a city like Springfield is that you get ever-decreasing investments in your infrastructure and you have to stretch out those improvement cycles,” Brown said. “We have bad streets, bad sidewalks, and we have drainage problems. We’re here to recommend that you folks seriously consider increasing investment in our infrastructure.”

Mike Norris, director of the city’s public works department, also spoke to aldermen about how his department tackles infrastructure improvements. He agreed that revenue sources are declining, but also said that public works lacks the manpower to keep up with the city’s needs. According to his figures, roughly 52 miles of streets in Springfield need updated and $29 million worth of sidewalk work needs completed.

After the subcommittee meets with residents, aldermen will combine their feedback with that from the city and the chamber to design a handful of five-year plans, set at different levels of funding. They’ll discuss these during the city’s budget process.

“Come January and February, we’ll be giving some proposals of various plans, street-by-street, block-by-block. ‘If we fund at this level, your street will be fixed in 2009, your street in 2010,’” Mahoney says. “It’ll be a five-year plan that shows a roadmap of what we’re going to do.”

Other ideas related to infrastructure could soon come up for discussion, including how to spend the $1.2 million gained from the creation of this fiscal year’s hotel/motel tax (the original plan called for it to fund sidewalk improvements) and if the city’s sidewalk program should be eradicated.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com

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