Is road work next victim of state budget gridlock?

Add orange cones and thousands of construction workers to the out-of-a-job list if state leaders don't come up with a budget soon, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn warned Thursday.

Hundreds of state projects, from the Jane Byrne Interchange rebuild in Chicago to intersection work at York and Irving Park roads in Bensenville, could grind to a halt, he said in an interview with the Daily Herald.

While the prospect of no 45 mph speed limits, delays and grit may sound good to commuters, Blankenhorn countered that there's no benefit to postponing improvements intended to increase the safety and efficiency of roads and bridges

Moreover, "if work is suspended it will cost tens of millions of dollars to close and reopen job sites," he said. Illinois' fiscal year ends June 30.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers failed to agree on a budget in 2015 and are deadlocked over the current year although talks are under way for a stopgap solution.

The feud has resulted in layoffs at myriad agencies and institutions funded by the state such as colleges and social services. About 25,000 construction workers could be out of work, Blankenhorn estimated.

Without a budget, IDOT would lack the authority to distribute gas taxes to municipalities and federal funds for construction projects.

"We can't spend any funds without a (budget) appropriation," the secretary explained.

The crisis will trickle down to agencies such as Metra and the CTA depending on outside funding for capital improvements, Blankenhorn said.

"They'll have a choice to continue working ... using their own money or they can stop," he added.

A spokesman for Speaker Michael Madigan said talks on the stopgap budget measure were continuing.

In the metropolitan Chicago region, IDOT and local projects totaling $665.5 million could be shut down. These would include:

• Replacement of the Ohio Street bridge crossing the BNSF tracks in Aurora.

• Intersection construction at Irving Park and Wood Dale roads in Wood Dale.

• Reconstruction of Deerfield Road between the Metra Milwaukee District West Line tracks and Skokie River in Lake County.

• Widening and reconstruction on Eola Road between Montgomery Road and 87th Street in Aurora.

• The reconstruction of the I-55 and Lake Shore Drive interchange in Chicago.

• Bridge rehab and widening at I-55 and First Avenue in Summit.

With the operating budget mired in gridlock, prospects aren't rosy for a multiyear state capital program needed to fix infrastructure and build new roads.

"We're falling behind on the conditions of road and bridges," Blankenhorn said, "but honestly, no one's talking about a capital plan until we get through the operating problems."

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