Yesterday's road to nowhere could be this summer's resurfacing project as state transportation planners await details of a potential $84.7 million windfall for Illinois courtesy of some stale earmarks.
A 2016 spending bill approved in late 2015 by Congress contains a proviso allowing unused transportation earmarks to be dispensed to states for related work. The catch is that earmarks must be more than 10 years old, and less than 10 percent of the total must have been spent or obligated.
Nationwide, the cash available could total nearly $2.2 billion, based on an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation data.
Given the state's financial crisis, it could boost Illinois' minimalist road work plans.
"We are actively working on this issue and evaluating the law to determine the amount of funding that will be available to Illinois," Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said. "We also are awaiting guidance from the federal government on how those funds can be used going forward."
Based on the association's data, Illinois could be in line for $84.7 million. Details should be finalized this month, Federal Highway Administration officials said.
States won't be given blank checks, however. "There will be restrictions on how and where the states spend the money," said Jim Tymon, the transportation association's chief operating officer.
For example, work must be done within 50 miles of the original earmark and fall under federal highway program parameters. In addition to roads and bridges, bike, pedestrian and transit projects, such as new buses or a walking path, also could qualify for funding.
Congress banned earmarks several years ago after scandals such as the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
But before the prohibition, millions of dollars were allocated for specific construction, and in many cases "the money is just sitting there for a project that will never move forward," Tymon said.
"States are very excited about this -- it will free up over $2 billion for projects that are ready to go today."
IDOT budgeted $1.85 billion for highways and bridges in 2016. The state shrank its multiyear highway improvement program in 2015, partly due to the lack of a long-term capital plan.