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updated: 4/2/2012 12:59 PM

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  • The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90 is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.

       The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90 is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90, left, is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.

       The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90, left, is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90, right, is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.

       The deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90, right, is being removed during reconstruction of the roadway.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Construction workers saw through concrete during removal of the deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90.

       Construction workers saw through concrete during removal of the deck of the existing tri-level bridge connecting northbound I-294 to westbound I-90.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Tollway contruction highlights

  • 2012 major roadwork

    Graphic: 2012 major roadwork

 
 

Stopping and starting. Slow zones. Stress. Cursing. Rude gestures.

The spring construction season is upon us.

But the above also applies to the congressional quagmire over passing a law to fund roads, bridges and transit.

After a winter's hibernation, work crews are closing lanes and starting to break pavement on some significant projects in the region.

The same can't be said for lawmakers' progress on approving meaningful surface transportation legislation.

The last long-term bill expired in 2009 and Congress has issued nine extensions since to keep money flowing from the federal gas tax to states, municipalities and transit agencies.

The latest extension came last week after weeks of bickering on Capitol Hill, but it lasts only until June 30.

"A short-term fix is just that -- short term," said Bill Baltutis, executive director of the TMA of Lake-Cook, a not-for-profit agency that works to improve commutes for area workers. "Everyone talks about kicking the can down the road. This is just one more example of that."

Historically, transportation funding bills have been five- or six-year programs. A multiyear transportation policy allows states to build significant projects because they know the money is there, said Tony Dorsey, media relations director for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

"Say you want to do a major renovation of your house and you're not sure you have the commitment to receive the money to do the project. You're not going to take the roof off your house," Dorsey said. "You're going to wait. That's where states are with these multi-million-dollar investments."

In February, the Senate passed a $109 billion, two-year transportation funding bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans. The same month, House Republicans came out with a five-year $260 billion bill that generated a bipartisan outcry because it left out transit funding, drawing opposition locally from the CTA, Metra and Pace.

With such a backlash, GOP leaders pulled the plan and approved a 90-day extension that limped through the Senate Thursday.

House Republicans "made a dog's breakfast out of this federal transportation bill," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said during the Senate debate.

Republican Congressmen Robert Dold of Kenilworth and Judy Biggert of Hinsdale had urged Speaker John Boehner to hold a vote on the two-year Senate bill, saying they would support it.

Dold voted no on the 90-day extension. "We cannot continue to have open-ended, short-term extensions that fail to adequately provide the certainty and planning ability our local transportation sector needs," he said in an email.

Biggert cast a yes vote, reluctantly, she said.

"The only thing less helpful than a series of stopgap measures would be to actually let federal transportation funding expire," she said via email.

Illinois Department of Transportation officials said 90 days was better than nothing.

IDOT has "consistently supported a well-funded, multiyear bill that can meet state and national needs for all modes of transportation," agency spokesman Guy Tridgell said.

"Any significant lapse in receiving those federal funds could disrupt our plans and the implementation of those projects. While we prefer the stability of a long-term federal reauthorization, we are prepared to adapt to another short-term extension."

Some fear hammering out a transportation policy in midsummer with the presidential election in full swing could be a mission: impossible.

"A 90-day extension would take us into the middle of the summer construction season, prolonging uncertainty and hampering long-term projects," said Congressman Daniel Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat who sits on the Transportation Committee. "It is also too long to keep the pressure on the House to get a long-term bill done as quickly as possible."

Locally, county transportation officials say the lack of a long-term highway bill is felt in the suburbs.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions and uneasiness," said Steve Coffinbarger, Kane County's assistant director of transportation. The county relies on federal funding to pay up to 80 percent of costs for bridges and roads. This includes work going on this season on Randall and Orchard roads, he said.

The question is will new legislation change or cut programs counties rely on, Coffinbarger said.

DuPage County is set for this year, but "it's a cause for concern going down the line," Director of Transportation and Initiatives John Kos said. "We always like cohesiveness in our revenuestream."

Dig in

Despite congressional dysfunction on the macro scale, suburban drivers will see a lot of road work this summer on the micro level.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is focusing on improving its roads in the region, with a slew of repair and widening projects.

The Illinois tollway's program for 2012 "can be characterized in two ways," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

"We're maintaining our current system by resurfacing some of our major roads. We're also ramping up on projects for Move Illinois, our major $12 billion investment over the next 15 years."

Move Illinois projects in 2012 involve construction of an interchange with the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 plus preliminary work on the widening of the Jane Addams Tollway.

Highway construction that will tie up traffic this year includes:

• Rebuilding the bridge interchange at the Jane Addams (I-90) and Tri-State (I-294) tollways;

• Resurfacing on the central Tri-State between Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont and 95th Street;

• Shoulder widening on I-90 between Randall Road in Elgin and I-39 in Rockford;

• Interchange construction at I-90 and I-47 in Huntley;

• Lane additions on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) between Deerpath Road and Route 56 in North Aurora.

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