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State-backed ‘Rebuild Illinois’ construction projects are moving too slowly, lawmakers say

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Thursday, May 19, 2022  |  Article  |  Ben Szalinski

Three years into the state’s 2019 Rebuild Illinois capital plan, lawmakers are expressing concerns about how fast the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is allocating money to complete projects.

 

House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines) called a subject matter hearing Wednesday to discuss HB5262, which would add an Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator at IDOT and require the department to provide information about infrastructure projects, including their budget and schedule, publicly available on their website. The bill passed the House in March 109-2 and Moylan said he is pushing the Senate to take up the bill during the fall veto session.  

 

Moylan said lawmakers are becoming increasingly concerned about how IDOT is implementing Rebuild Illinois. He pointed to worries IDOT officials are working too slowly to distribute funds for projects and have made little information available about the schedules of projects. Moylan said he wants IDOT to make more information available about the status and schedule of Rebuild Illinois projects available online to address concerns lawmakers are hearing in their districts.  

 

“That would help a lot and alleviate the pressure off our committee and some of the members,” Moylan said. “They got to listen to their mayors in some of their towns saying, ‘where’s my project’ and if [lawmakers] have some kind of a timeline for them to understand, it would help us a lot.”

 

Lawmakers butted heads with IDOT Deputy Secretary of Transportation Becky Locker several times during the hour-long hearing, particularly when Locker didn’t have information available to answers lawmakers’ questions. 

 

“We are willing to sit down with members because I do understand it is complicated and sometimes the information isn’t necessarily easy to interpret,” Locker said. 

 

Since Rebuild Illinois began in 2019, IDOT has distributed $7 billion for road and bridge repairs, Locker said. That leaves $18 billion to be allocated for projects in the capital plan, which is supposed to take place over a five-year period. 

 

Lawmakers were irritated that projects they expected to see completed in their districts have not progressed and questioned how the department is going to distribute $18 billion in the next two years after only distributing $7 billion during the last two.

 

“Every year you delay is fewer projects that get done because of the inflationary cycle that we’re in,” Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst). 

 

Locker said IDOT is working to complete as many projects as it can during Rebuild Illinois’ five-year period and added she hopes legislators will reappropriate unspent funds to complete projects after the capital plan’s timeline runs its course.

 

“There are a lot of components that go along with the road and bridge projects and some of those do take time and some of those have taken longer than we would’ve liked them to,” Locker said.

 

She did not say if she expects IDOT to complete the list of Rebuild Illinois projects within the next two years.

 

Rep. Seth Lewis (R-Bartlett) said he wants the department to find a way to end the perception among legislators and other public officials that Rebuild Illinois is behind on projects if the projects aren’t actually behind schedule. 

 

“Between not answering the question and the director not being here, is the department going to take this hearing seriously?” Lewis asked. 

 

Locker said IDOT Secretary Omar Osman was unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing. She also told lawmakers the department releases an annual report each fall about the projects done over the last year.Still, lawmakers piled on their questions and concerns about the lack of information on Rebuild Illinois’ progress. 

 

Rep. Jawaharial Williams (D-Chicago) asked for the number of Black people who have been employed by Rebuild Illinois projects. Locker said she didn’t have that information available but would pass it along to lawmakers and that the department was working to set up a system to track that information. Williams said he felt his question was simple and said he was disappointed Locker didn’t have specific answers to questions from lawmakers.

 

Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin (D-Olympia Fields) inquired about the potential construction of the South Suburban Airport that has long been discussed near Peotone and which Rebuild Illinois appropriated $1 million for. Locker said work on design for the airport was being completed this spring, but any kind of construction was part of longer-term goals over the next five years, disappointing Meyers-Martin.

 

“The people in the southland have been waiting for there to be progress on that project for a very long time,” Meyers-Martin said.