Schools, mayors want piece of infrastructure pie

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

Glyn Ramage (second from right), business manager of the Southwestern Illinois Laborers District Council, tells lawmakers that union workers are “putting Band-Aids on our crumbling infrastructure to the point that is has become a serious safety issue.” (

State senators are hearing about infrastructure needs as they take their listening tour on the road — as bumpy as that road may be.

From pothole-plagued roadways to crumbling bridges to inefficient and dated university and community college buildings, senators are hearing just what infrastructure needs are as the first capital improvement bill in more than a decade is expected to make its way through the state legislature this year.

“While there are a lot of needs across the state, the way in which we pay for those needs has to reflect the capacity of various areas of the state,” said state Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods).

At a March 4 hearing in Edwardsville, lawmakers heard a laundry list of improvements and construction projects from local mayors, transportation experts and others. Lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Capital are planning at least four other regional hearings to document transportation and infrastructure needs in the state.

Hearings are planned for:

  • March 18 — 1 p.m. at the Decatur Public Library, 130 N. Franklin St.
  • April 8 — 3 p.m. in Peplow Pavilion inside the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center at Bradley University, 1501 W. Bradley Ave., Peoria.
  • April 16 — 1 p.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle St., Chicago.
  • April 22 — 1 p.m. at the Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove Ave., Elgin.

State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) is chairman of one of the two Senate budget committees that will be heavily involved in crafting a construction plan. He is overseeing the hearings with state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), chairman of the Transportation Committee.

Kevin Dorsey (right), interim president of the Southern Illinois University System, tells lawmakers that capital improvements on a university campus tell students and faculty that they are valued. Next to Dorsey at the March 4 state Senate hearing on needed infrastructure improvements in the state is Randy Pembrook, chancellor of SIU-Edwardsville. (

Officials from Southern Illinois University, which has campuses in Carbondale, Edwardsville and Springfield, implored lawmakers to set aside money for deferred maintenance and construction projects, noting that “cranes on campus” sends a valuable message to communities.

“For us a capital bill is about investment in our students, both current and future,” said interim SIU System President Kevin Dorsey. “It’s what speaks to prospective students and faculty. It says we value them. It helps us attract and retain students not just from Illinois, but from all over the world.”

He said for SIU to compete it needs critical investments from the state.

SIU’s Carbondale campus alone needs more than $700 million in deferred maintenance, according to school officials.

Metro East mayors outlined road and highway improvement projects that are necessary to attract major employers that want to build or expand in the region.

“Infrastructure is very important. We’re a very small community. We are a very minority community,” said Michael Suarez, mayor of Fairmount City. “… Our infrastructure is always our biggest problem.”

He said he wants lawmakers to remember smaller communities like his when doling out funds for capital improvements.

“We’d just like to make sure we’re not forgotten when this potential money is disbursed throughout the state,” Suarez said.

Representatives of labor unions from the Metro East, southern and central Illinois described challenges they have recruiting new people and diversifying their ranks when there isn’t enough work in the state.

Glyn Ramage, business manager of the Southwestern Illinois Laborers District Council, said a strong infrastructure bill is needed to help the state “because we cope with it every single day repairing and putting Band-Aids on our crumbling infrastructure to the point that it has become a serious safety issue.”

“Drive along Interstate 255, 55 or 64 and it doesn’t take long to realize our roadways are in desperate need of repair,” Ramage said. “… It’s time to fix this state.”

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