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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 06:35 am

Low marks for state’s infrastructure

Report card says Illinois roads, bridges and waterways need remedial help

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The state’s bridges earned a C on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2010 infrastructure report card. The group evaluated aviation, waterways, railroads and other infrastructure statewide, giving Illinois a D overall.
PHOTO BY JERRY TOMASELLI/MCT
The state’s infrastructure earned failing grades in a report issued last week by the Illinois chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

If the situation does not improve, civil engineers say, drivers may see more potholes on roads and highways, train travelers may experience more delays while waiting for tracks to clear and farmers may lose as much as $500 per hour while locks close and reopen in the state’s waterways.

Chris King, current president of the Illinois section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), says his group issued the 2010 report card to alert legislative leaders and policy makers about the problems facing the state’s infrastructure.

“The fact is, the condition of our infrastructure is deteriorating,” King says. “And the truth is, we cannot stand by and allow that to happen. Our quality of life depends on it, and our citizens deserve better.”

A group of 33 civil engineers volunteered to conduct the unpaid survey of the state’s aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, navigable waterways, rail, roads, transit and wastewater. Overall, Illinois received a D , with no individual category ranking higher than a C . The state ranks slightly higher than the overall U.S., which earned a D- in a national version of the report card.

Though bridges ranked fairly high in the statewide report (earning a C overall), they are the biggest area of concern for the Springfield area, says George Ghareeb, division manager of Terra Engineering, Ltd. in Peoria.

Ghareeb, who evaluated the Springfield and Peoria areas for the report card, says the state’s Department of Transportation is doing “a fairly decent job,” but he’s worried about the condition of many bridges along I-55.

“We need to be sure we have safe bridges,” Ghareeb says. “I saw a lot of cracking and crumbling, especially due to weather conditions. The continuing cycle of freezing, salting and thawing is taking a toll our highways and roads.”

Robert Gorski, past president of Illinois ASCE, says the report card was distributed to all members of the General Assembly, and he hopes legislators will read it and take action. While Governor Pat Quinn’s recently-passed capital bill does provide funding for infrastructure, it only gives $2.7 billion overall. The transit needs of northeastern Illinois alone are $10 billion over the next five years, Gorksi says.

“For Illinois to remain competitive economically, the state needs to make an investment to preserve our role as a transportation center of the nation,” Gorski says. “This investment will pay dividends by making Illinois attractive to businesses, who will consider the state as a location to operate.”

Both King and Gorski acknowledged that the state’s current fiscal crisis means limited funding is available for infrastructure. However, both urged the legislature to make long-term investments that will increase safety and save money over time.

“The past ‘patch and pray’ method doesn’t work,” King says of the state’s tendency to repair only the most critical damages. “It’s not very cost-effective.”

Gorksi says he hopes the report will have a lasting impact on infrastructure maintenance and funding.

“While it may not happen overnight, these problems are solvable with real leadership,” he says.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com

Click here to see the 2010 Report Card for Illinois Infastructure

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