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Illinois Road Projects Could Suffer Due To COVID-19

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A motorist pumps gasoline in Detroit, Friday, April 10, 2020.

There may be fewer road construction projects and repairs around Illinois in the coming year as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

It started with the governor’s stay-at-home-order in late March.   Since then, fewer motorists have been hitting the roads.  Which means they are buying less gas, which in turn means less money is being generated in motor fuel taxes. Those taxes are designated for local road projects and helps fund a statewide construction program.

Gas stations have noticed a drop of more than 50 percent in the last six weeks.   Josh Sharp, CEO of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents gas stations and convenience stores, said the pandemic has destroyed the demand for gasoline.

“The first initial weeks we saw actually a spike in demand. After that, demand has just really just been obliterated by  the pandemic,” Sharp said.

State revenue figures show gas sales off in March by 13 percent, a number that would usually only move about one percent in either direction.

Brad Cole is the Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League.  That is the organization that represents the interests of towns and villages at the state capitol.  Cole says the decline in that tax revenue is something the citizens will notice, whether it be delays in regulator street resurfacing, road construction or bridge repair.

“So there are a number of projects that were scheduled to take place this summer. And those could be delayed because the funding is not been received, as would have been anticipated to be able to pay for those projects. Or it could mean that long term projects that would be funded through bonds or payment of loans might be put off because of the decreased revenues in the short term. So they might not have the funds available in the long term to do those bigger projects.

While the Illinois Muncipal League projects a 15 percent reduction in gas tax revenues in the coming year, another group says it could be more dire. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute, a Democratic leaning organization, says if people stay off the roads for a better part of a year it could be even worse. Their projections show if people were staying at home for ten months, it could drop 22 percent.  

There are signs more people are getting back on the road. But an NPR report says those levels are still below pre-pandemic levels.

Bill Wheelhouse is a reporter with NPR Illinois in Springfield.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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