Could roadwork stop Friday if Illinois doesn't pass a budget?
Inching along the one open lane on Lake Street in Hanover Park as dust flies and front loaders pound pavement is excruciating now.
But inching along the one open lane in a ghost construction zone could be even more annoying.
Dire warnings are emanating from all corners of Illinois that if Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers don't pass a budget this week, the 2017 construction season will become collateral damage and all state roadwork will cease as of Friday afternoon.
"I'm very pessimistic," said Martam Construction President Robert Kutrovatz. "Personally, I think we're going to have to shut it down. There are too many political games going on."
A work stoppage would silence cement mixers at sites from the Jane Byrne Interchange to Route 132 in Gurnee, cut jobs and cost the state millions.
But don't run to the bunker yet. The solution is to approve an appropriation releasing transportation funds, independent of the budget squabble, veteran lawmakers say.
"The situation's bad enough. There's no reason to make it worse," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.
Now back to the worst-case scenario. "Due to the General Assembly's refusal to pass a balanced budget, the Illinois Department of Transportation loses its ability to pay contractors starting July 1," IDOT has stated. The agency has ordered construction sites to be shut down Friday absent a solution.
That would suspend 700 state projects with a $2.3 billion value, put 20,000 construction jobs at risk and cost the state millions. Work affected locally would include widening the Kennedy Expressway east of Cumberland Avenue, rebuilding Deerfield Road between Highland Park and Deerfield, reconstruction of Eola Road in Aurora, and repairs to Church Road in Bensenville.
Freezing roadwork "is not a simple process," Martam project manager Chris Margewich said while overseeing workers building a new Lake Street bridge over the West Branch of the DuPage River Thursday.
"Depending on the project, you may have to close up open holes, make sure all your traffic devices are in place ... demobilize equipment."
While construction-fatigued drivers might cheer initially, they shouldn't expect roads to revert to normal or closed lanes to reopen. "A shutdown would really prolong the completion of projects," Kutrovatz said.
And doing nothing is expensive. "It could cost about $2 million a day," Margewich said. The state must pay "idle time" for heavy equipment to remain at a site or compensate contractors for moving machines, which starts at $300 and goes up to $1,400 per machine depending on size.
Ironically, this spring voters approved a request by referendum putting Illinois' transportation funds in a "lock box" that was supposed to guarantee funding. Of those revenues, federal dollars account for 76 percent and 19 percent comes from state gas taxes and vehicle fees. Local governments chip in the rest.
"Our money's there," explained IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. But "the bottom line is we have to have an appropriation to spend the money."
Harris and fellow Republican state Rep. Patti Bellock are crossing fingers Democrat leaders will blink and pass a transportation appropriation that Rauner signs before the fiscal year ends Friday.
"My hope is this will be solved by the end of the week," said Bellock of Hinsdale.
"I hope it's just scare tactics by the powers that be," said Harris. But "this is the land of Oz."
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One more thing
It was a toast and roast Friday for outgoing Metra Director and former Chairman Martin Oberman, who helped revive the agency as it was reeling from a patronage scandal in 2013.
Executive Director Don Orseno said jokingly if Oberman "ever calls you and says, 'Do you have a couple of minutes?' -- hang up. Forty-five minutes later, he'll say, 'Do you have one more minute?'"
Four years ago, "it was a dark time for Metra," longtime Director Jack Partelow recalled. "Then, Marty showed up with his bow tie and bicycle. We wouldn't be in the shape we are now if it wasn't for him." Customers recently gave the agency an 83 percent satisfaction rating in a survey.
Oberman signed off from his final board meeting saying: "Eternal vigilance is the price of integrity and transportation in government. It doesn't happen by itself."
You should know
Is your kid's car safety seat really secure? Check with police experts at several Illinois tollway events from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 22 at the Schaumburg Ikea and Aug. 12 at the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville. To learn more, go to illinoistollway.com.
Road trip time
Nearly 3 percent more Illinoisans will vamoose on vacation over the Fourth of July compared to 2016, AAA reports. That's about 2.4 million people. Most -- 2.1 million -- will be driving, while 108,000 will fly. Favorable gas prices of $2.44 for a gallon of regular on average in the region are contributing to the wanderlust.