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Wednesday, April 8, 2009 07:12 am

City council still searching for money to fix streets


It’s been five months since the city of Springfield created a subcommittee on infrastructure and began asking residents for input on crumbling sidewalks and streets, but aldermen are still unsure about which areas need the most attention and how the fixes will be funded.

Public works director Mike Norris recently told the subcommittee that the city should spend at least $86 million over the next five years to improve infrastructure. According to his preliminary plan, Norris estimates that it will cost $37 million to fix 105 miles of Springfield’s worst streets — rated between 3 and 5 on a 1-to-5 scale system. The plan calls for an additional $10 million to repair sidewalks, particularly in areas surrounding schools, and $13 million to complete Stanford Avenue between Sixth and Taylor.

Norris also proposed that the city direct $2.5 to $4 million to specific infrastructure projects identified in each ward, at a total cost of $26 million. Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney, co-chair of the subcommittee, suggested that the city council pass an ordinance that lists the projects street by street.

Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson disagreed, saying that the plan should be flexible to allow more work in harder-hit sections of Springfield.

“There is much more of a need in wards 2, 3, 4 and 6 than in other parts of the city,” she said. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed…by an ordinance that would only allow the director to do [certain] streets.”

Aldermen also expressed reservations over funding, as they heard from Norris that neither federal stimulus nor state capital plan monies would aid future infrastructure improvements.

Only one area project — the intersection of Old Jacksonville and Veteran’s Parkway — was chosen to receive federal assistance. Norris said Springfield will partner with the state to fix the city’s No. 2 accident intersection; the estimated $5.5 million project will receive $2.1 million in stimulus funds.

“The stimulus package is not going to fix your roads,” Norris told aldermen. “It’s not going to fix your sidewalks either.”

Since most of the Springfield streets laid out in his infrastructure plan aren’t state routes, Norris continued, the state capital plan won’t extend any funding to their needed improvements.

On April 23, the infrastructure subcommittee will meet again to seek funding suggestions from the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Q5 Initiative. Last spring the initiative examined the city’s preservation, modernization and expansion needs and found that Springfield should spend $31.7 annually on streets and $7.5 million on sewers. In its report, the group also listed potential funding options, including a 0.25-percent sales tax increase and a 1-percent dining tax.

Even though subcommittee members have hinted that tax increases might be the solution, Mahoney said they’ll try to consider broader options — like the city’s hotel/motel tax that will raise $1.2 million annually for infrastructure — to bring extra money into the community.

“The whole purpose of this process is to keep an open mind,” Mahoney said. “How do we pay for this? At some point, we’re going to have to deal with these problems or they’ll get worse and worse every year.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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