Proposed Illinois amendment could secure transportation funding

Illinois voters hitting the polls in November’s presidential election will also be asked whether to amend the state’s constitution.

A new ballot measure would prevent money in the state’s transportation fund from being used for other projects, leaving more money for construction projects that make roads safer around the state.

If you’ve hit the highways lately in Illinois, you’ve probably noticed a few bumps and cracks on the roads.

"Overall, they’re terrible," says James “Sparky” Sparks. The Du Quoin resident is getting ready to hit the road after work, but Sparks says a lot of roads need improvement.

"Our main roads could really use some upkeep," Sparks says.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, who represents state district 118, says after decades of legislators and governors siphoning transportation funding elsewhere, he decided to sponsor the "safe roads" amendment. He says the measure moved through the Illinois House and Senate quickly with bipartisan support, and he hopes that’s a sign that this long-used practice will soon stop for good.

"This is the right thing to do, because this is something we should have done years ago," says Phelps. He says if the amendment passes, it’ll prevent lawmakers from being able to pull money from the transportation fund and move it to the general fund. That would leave more money for construction projects like the one on Highway 13.

"All we’re trying to do here is take that road money. Let’s lock it up and not use it for anything else except making our roads safer and better to travel on," Phelps says.

"I think it’s much needed and overdue," Sparks says. He says, if this amendment helps improve road quality and make things safer, he’s all for it.

Some critics say the amendment does not allow for funding flexibility, or that it could encourage favoritism from lawmakers for unions and road builders.

The Department of Transportation reports that 73 percent of Illinois’ roads are in poor or mediocre condition. According to the report, that makes Illinois dead last in the nation, tied with Connecticut. With rough road conditions around the state, the report shows that can add hundreds of dollars in car repairs for every driver.

You can find out more about the amendment at a public informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the Marion Pavilion.

This is a look at the amendment:

The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds. You are asked to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.