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AP: $275M More for Illinois Roads this Year

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois could have $275 million more for road and bridge projects this year if lawmakers approve a Department of Transportation funding plan, according to a summary obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Transportation officials identified $400 million in extra federal and freed-up state money to pump into the transit improvement program during the next five years. One lawmaker said the agency is pushing for immediate legislative approval so work can begin once it warms up.

DOT would push $275 million of the infusion into this construction season. That would represent a 15 percent increase over the $1.76 billion DOT announced it would spend in the budget year that ends June 30, but still less than the previous year.

“The unanswered question is where will the money be spent,” Senate Assistant Majority Leader John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, said Tuesday. “Assuming this is adequately addressed, I believe there will be bipartisan support.”

A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said Senate Democrats would decide Wednesday whether to include the request in this week’s three-day session.

It’s a late addition to what could be a busy agenda as lawmakers wind down their two-year session before a new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 9. Both Senate and House were originally scheduled to be in Springfield for most of the next eight days, including the weekend, leading observers to wonder how ambitious an itinerary they were ready to tackle.

But even though the two houses have since split the week the Senate will be in three days this week, the House, most of next week there are still major issues dancing in the minds of hopeful legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn, including changes to the underfunded pension system, the legalization of gay marriage and a military-style assault weapons ban.

The road funding bump is largely a combination of a federal windfall and an end to state officials diverting road fund money to other state expenses. The extra spending buffers an otherwise disappointing drop in transportation-improvement money from the 2012 budget year. Even with additional concrete, however, overall spending would still represent a 17 percent reduction from the previous construction season.

As officials identified additional funding sources, authorities worked on “trying to make it large enough that it would be a significant project to put people to work this spring to build and repair roads,” Sullivan said.

A Transportation spokesman did not have immediate comment about the plan Tuesday. A Quinn aide said the governor is focused on the pension problem.

A funding-formula change following a new federal transportation law adopted last summer meant $175 million more federal money for Illinois, according to the summary given to senators.

Limiting the use of state road fund money to pay for state employee group insurance and workers’ compensation, something Sullivan and other lawmakers have pushed with groups such as the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, means $110 million extra.

An unanticipated jump in motor vehicle registration fees and the availability of additional local-government money for transit projects brings the total to $400 million.
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Contact John O’Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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