Should state keep road money in a 'lockbox'?

“Are Illinois bridges safe to drive under?” likely won't be the question on your mind when voting, but a coalition of economic advocates and road builders hopes it will be part of your thinking. This Nov. 8, a binding referendum proposal seeking an amendment to Illinois' constitution will appear on the ballot aimed at keeping transportation-related taxes and fees from being swept into the general fund.

The government has diverted about $6.8 billion intended for transportation into keeping Illinois' budget in the black, and the result is shoddy infrastructure and job losses, representatives from the construction industry are arguing.

“We're not talking about bumps in the road,” said Michael Sturino, Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association president. “This could cause damage to vehicles and cause accidents.”

The so-called Safe Roads Amendment would put transportation funding in a “locked box” and prevent a situation such as the fatal collapse of a Minneapolis bridge in 2007, advocates said. They estimate about 4,200 state bridges and 50 percent of roads are in poor condition.

OK, crumbling bridges and roads are bad. But how about some concrete (no pun intended) examples instead of generalities?

Industry officials couldn't provide specifics about infrastructure in the region that's in danger of imminent collapse.

They did point out some local examples of infrastructure in “dire need of repair” such as: decrepit pavement on Quentin Road between Lake-Cook Road and Dundee Road in Palatine, Joliet Road between East Avenue and 55th Street in Hodgkins, and Harlem Avenue north of the Stevenson Expressway near Stickney.

The amendment has appeared on the ballot courtesy of Illinois lawmakers who gave it nearly unanimous approval.

Interestingly, one of the few “no” votes came from Northbrook Democratic State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a big supporter of transit and transportation projects.

“The core for me was not about transportation or whether we should spend transportation dollars on projects, but whether or not we should further tie the state's hands and our ability to balance our competing demands,” Nekritz said.

Got an opinion on the referendum? What bridges or roads do you see that are in danger of collapse? Drop me an email at

<h3 class="leadin">Your voice

Carrie Brooks of Mount Prospect had this to say about last week's column on American Airlines operations. “When my husband and I fly, we always go first class/business and pay the (money) for it. I am sick and tired of 'lap' children being allowed in that upgrade! The last several times we have been on a plane the lap children were anything but. They were jumping all over the place, crying, screaming, running around etc. To add insult to it, the parents do not pay for the lap kid! The first class/business should ONLY be for children over 16. Why don't airlines have adults-only flights? I bet I am not the only passenger who would book that flight.”

<h3 class="leadin">You should know

Want dahlias at your depot? A mural at your train station? Metra is ready to help.

The commuter agency is accepting applications from communities that want to beautify and improve their stations or other railroad property. Projects must be funded by applicants, although Metra could contribute materials or workers in some cases.

Examples include murals or sculptures, landscaping or painting, and sprucing up public areas. The hope is to foster community pride, which also makes cleaner and safer station environments, Metra CEO Don Orseno said.

<h3 class="leadin">Gridlock alert

This sounds painful: IDOT is warning of closures on Touhy Avenue between Elmhurst and Mount Prospect roads in Des Plaines from Monday through Sept. 22 so the Union Pacific Railroad can repair its crossing. Touhy will be closed at the UP tracks west of Mount Prospect Road. Detours will be posted.

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Stopping trespasser deaths

The DuPage Railroad Safety Council will host a “Prevent Tragedy on the Tracks,” forum from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Drake Hotel, Oak Brook. The aim is to eliminate deaths by people trespassing on railroad tracks. For more information, go to

<h3 class="leadin">One more thing

Pace is altering its Route 602 bus that runs between the Metra Milwaukee District West Line station in Schaumburg and the intersection of Higgins and Golf roads.

The agency is adding connections between Town Square of Schaumburg and the Metra station during rush hour on weekends but halting routing on the Salem-Victoria-Andrew-Cedarcrest section. To learn more, go to

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