Yesterday, Governor Pat Quinn appointed President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney to the Illinois Toll Highway Authority Board of Directors. Board members are responsible for planning, constructing, maintaining, and operating the state’s toll highway system, offering guidance at monthly board meetings.
“Local 150 members have been building the tollway for as long as it has existed, and we know what works and what does not,” said Sweeney. “A good system of roads is important to the economic engine in Illinois, and responsible expansion is needed to keep up with population and freight growth.”
Sweeney will bring to the board his enthusiasm for development. Local 150 has been a tireless advocate of maintenance and modernization of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure throughout its jurisdiction, and the tollway’s newly approved $12 billion dollar capital plan is a great start, though there is still work to be done when it comes to new highways.
“During the public hearing process, we saw a lot of conversation firing up about the extension of Route 53 as well as expedited work on the Illiana and formal planning for the Prairie Parkway. These are all roads that would save motorists time and money and make it easier for businesses to move commercial goods through the state, and that is good for everyone. We have to keep an eye toward the future and figure out now what the needs will be in the next decade so we can be prepared to move.
With long-term federal funding still halted, finding ways to pay for new roads has become even more of a challenge. State coffers struggle to support existing roads, and expansion of the Illinois Tollway required a toll increase, so officials must be creative in seeking funding methods.
“Leveraging private investment dollars on new infrastructure projects has to be explored as a means to build needed improvements, and it must be done in the most responsible way. Without the public-private partnership language adopted by Illinois and Indiana last year, the Illiana Expressway would still be just a dream. We have to be willing to accept that this is a new era, and that finding billions of dollars for our roads is going to take a little bit more work.”
“We are lucky in Illinois to have an incredibly efficient construction workforce. Our skilled workers and contractors can build a mile of highway for far less than those in much lower-wage states such as Texas and Alabama. In fact, the last study of federal highway numbers showed that a mile of highway in Illinois was 15 percent less costly to build than in Texas, despite their labor costs being less than half of ours. Skill and safety make a job get done properly the first time.”
Financial compensation from this position will go toward establishing a need-based scholarship fund for Local 150 members’ children. Once established, the program will be publicized in the Local 150 Engineer and on www.Local150.org.
“I am proud to say that we will have a voice at this table once again. Bill Dugan was an innovative leader during his time on the tollway board, introducing a project labor agreement that guaranteed union labor on some of the biggest road projects in Illinois history. Workers and tollway users both benefit from a well-built system that fosters economic growth, and I will bring my 32 years of experience as an operating engineer with me to the board.”