When it comes to investing in Illinois’ infrastructure – our roads, bridges, dams, public transit, railroads, water systems and airports – the economics are pretty simple: You can pay now, or you can pay more later.

We can’t keep our economy humming if our pothole-marked highways endanger car tires and axles, if our outdated tracks delay our freight trains, if our flimsy bridges can’t handle truck traffic, and if our overloaded public transit systems can’t get people to work on time. It has been estimated that road congestion alone costs Illinois’ economy tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity each year – an estimated $4 billion in the Chicago area alone.

In 2012, a national task force identified a whopping $300 billion of repairs and upgrades that our state’s infrastructure will need over the next 20 or 30 years. The task force report cited a 2011 survey of Illinois’ highways and roads by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which found that about half of our highways and roads were in Fair or Poor condition. And in 2010, the Federal Highway Administration reported that more than 15% of our 26,000 bridges were “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

In 2010, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Illinois a D-plus for the overall state of our infrastructure. Over the past four years, we’ve managed to pull that grade up to a C-minus, but that’s not good enough. As the most recent report card states: “We need to create sustainable infrastructure investment programs that plan for the future Illinois we want our children to live in, and continue the positive momentum we have seen over the past four years.”

When we invest in infrastructure, we also invest in people. A new report from the Brookings Institution has found that “infrastructure jobs” tend to pay better – even for workers at the lower end of the income scale. Whether they’re working as cargo agents, rail car repairers, gas compressor operators or septic tank servicers, people who work in infrastructure build valuable skills on the job and make more money than their counterparts in other sectors.

By repairing our state’s crumbling infrastructure today and investing in smart new projects, we can help Illinois’ businesses boost the bottom line, create good, permanent new jobs and save billions of dollars. That’s a win-win-win for all the people of Illinois.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of Illinois’ infrastructure, and the critical role of infrastructure jobs in building our economy, here are some additional resources:
● “The State of Illinois Infrastructure,” November 2012, The Civic Federation