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Column

All roads lead to ruin if not kept up

Illinoisans might have good reason to wonder whether their leaders have a workable plan to fix the state’s crumbling highway system, which has suffered additional deterioration because of harsh winter weather.

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a state’s highways by how they look in the dead of winter — with bumps, potholes and crumbling pavement emerging from beneath the ice and snow.

Even so, Illinois’ rural roadways have definitely seen better days.

As weather clears so state road crews can patch up those holes and cracks, the damage to tires and suspensions of motor vehicles should lessen.

Several extreme cold snaps that began at the first of the year have been rough on pavement. When water gets into cracks in the asphalt and concrete and freezes, then thaws, then freezes and thaws again, road surfaces start looking less like smooth, 21st-century highways and more like the Ho Chi Minh Trail after a particularly heavy U.S. bombing attack during the Vietnam War.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his budget address a few weeks back, pledged $2.2 billion for the state’s roads program for Fiscal Year 2019. He said he’s adding $511 million in new capital funds for other Illinois Department of Transportation needs.

According to IDOT’s website, Fiscal Year 2018 started with $2.2 billion as well, but the General Assembly approved a bill to transfer $303 million of that away to somewhere else, leaving $1.9 billion for road work.

A look at IDOT’s FY 2018 program, available online, lists minimal projects for Putnam County.

IDOT budgeted $72,000 for engineering work on a proposed bridge project on Bottom Road over an Illinois River tributary, three miles northeast of Granville.

That’s it -- though, of course, county residents stand to benefit after the new state Route 89 bridge over the Illinois River is completed later this year.

Perhaps minimal road improvements should be expected in a state whose financial situation is as rough as Illinois’ is. Rauner spent most of his budget address on other aspects of the state’s financial ills.

But for people who spend part of their days traveling on deteriorating roadways, the need for a new capital infrastructure plan becomes increasingly obvious, particularly as former Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital road repair plan has long since expired.

The Legislature should address the state pension crisis. Lawmakers should figure out how to get its bills paid on time. Human services and education programs should be better supported. Increased revenue from last year’s income tax increase should help in that regard.

An overall plan to keep the state’s highway system in much better repair should also receive greater attention in the weeks and months ahead in Springfield.

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