Should IL Boost Gas Tax To Build Better Bridges?

Apr 9, 2018

Credit "Chain Of Rocks Bridge" by Flickr User Chris Yunker / (CC x 2.0)

Illinois needs more money to cover its deteriorating transportation systems, but the federal government’s new infrastructure plan doesn’t offer much.

A recent report estimates the state will need close to $4.6 billion per year to bring roadways, bridges and transit systems up to working condition. One proposed solution: Illinois motorists and users of public transportation may have to shoulder the expenses. 

Mary Craighead is the transportation policy analyst with the non-profit Illinois Economic Policy Institute, which authored the report. One option her group analyzed would more than quadruple the existing state gas tax — from the current 19 cents a gallon up to 85 cents per gallon. Craighead said an increase may not be what Illinois residents prefer, but it would also save them in the long run if the state can get its transportation systems up to good, working order.

“People are paying in the time that they’re spending sitting in congestion, or they’re paying because of not appropriately maintained roads are causing damage to their vehicles,” she said.

The state supplements any federal funding through revenue generated from motor fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. The revenue isn’t enough, Craighead explains, which leaves states waiting for federal support through the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  

The Trump administration for months touted a "grand infrastructure" proposal that would increase funding in addition to what the Highway Trust Fund already provides. The $1.5-trillion proposal, unveiled in February, offers only $200 billion of direct federal funding through five major programs that push for state and local government to financially support their own projects. In one example, a state like Illinois would qualify only if it can meet 80% of a project’s costs. Federal funds would cover the remaining share.

“Everyone thought, based on what the federal government was saying, that they were going to provide this grand infrastructure plan and lots of money.  It turns out they’re not actually providing that much money,” Craighead said.   

State legislators met earlier in the week for a special hearing in Chicago to discuss this new federal infrastructure plan and its impact on the state’s transportation needs. A number of state-wide stakeholders testified, including Craighead and Benjamin Brockschmid, executive director for the Infrastructure Council – a subgroup of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Like Craighead, he says one problem with the federal proposal is that it doesn’t supplement the available funding through the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is already lacking.

“When you look at the plan as released, yeah — it’s got a lot of billions of dollars in it,” he said, “but there’s not a lot of funding there nor does it address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund at the federal level.”