Ignore the threats. Get federal infrastructure deal done

Illinois infrastructure needs are not being fully met, even after investment by the state.

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On July 16, transit passengers board the Metro C Line, formerly Green Line, light rail train alongside the 105 Freeway at the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange in Los Angeles, California. -

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As lawmakers in Washington negotiate what could become a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s physical infrastructure, Illinoisans wait impatiently as the chance to repair and modernize the state’s infrastructure network could slip away due to partisan politics from both sides of the aisle.

While our infrastructure was once what helped make Illinois the economic powerhouse of the Midwest, the need for massive investments to keep us competitive is growing. In the most recent state-by-state analysis of infrastructure conditions across the country, Illinois received an overall grade of a “C-“, failing to earn higher than a “C+” in any of the 10 physical infrastructure categories examined. 

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In 2019, a bipartisan majority of Illinois lawmakers recognized these failings and came together to approve the REBUILD Illinois Capital Plan, dedicating $45 billion to begin repairing Illinois’ aging infrastructure. But even with that historic investment from the state, Illinois’ infrastructure needs are not being fully met.

However, rumblings from Washington have given us hope. In recent days, a bipartisan group of senators has hunkered down in the nation’s capital to hammer out the details of the potentially historic federal infrastructure deal, nearly reaching an agreement.

As it stands, the bipartisan deal would allocate $1 trillion in new federal investments around the country, with billions expected to help fund projects here in Illinois. From reconfiguring the dangerous and impractical Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive S-Curve near Oak Street and repairing the rapidly deteriorating Eisenhower Expy. to widening the I-270 corridor in Madison County and rebuilding its bridge over the Mississippi River, there are dozens of infrastructure priorities in Illinois that this federal investment could help make a reality. Improvements to municipal water systems to ensure safe, clean drinking water for our people, rebuilding and expanding ports and freight corridors to keep our markets competitive in the global economy, and building better access to transit and passenger rail so workers have access to more and better jobs — all of these investments are on the table with a deal this size. And with the state’s REBUILD Illinois Capital Plan already putting people to work and shovels in the ground, Illinois will be well-positioned to take advantage of this massive federal investment.

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Unfortunately, members of Congress from both parties are threatening to hold this deal up over everything from refusing to let the other side of the aisle get “a win” to using procedural maneuvers to delay votes and sidetrack progress.

As Congress considers this historic legislation, it would be wise to ignore those who threaten this deal with partisan games and instead follow in the footsteps of the Illinois lawmakers who worked across the aisle to approve the state’s REBUILD Illinois Capital Plan. Thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investments in our communities, and the long-term economic advantages of a better-built, modern, and equitable infrastructure network are at stake. We cannot allow political gridlock in Washington to cause more gridlock on our infrastructure here at home. Congress needs to put politics aside and get this deal done. 

Kevin Artl is president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois.

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