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GAS - file

Lauren Bird of Decatur pumps gas earlier this summer at Billingsley Phillips 66 on South Franklin Street in Decatur.

DECATUR — State transportation officials say this year's 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase means millions more dollars to help fix aging downstate roads. 

Illinois Department of Transportation engineers broke down how the money will be distributed for an audience at the Decatur Club during the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday. It was welcome information for business owners and city leaders, who have long struggled with how to pay for rapidly deteriorating roads despite increasing material costs and other budget pressures.

"I supported the gas tax, primarily because I want to see our backlog of roads fixed, and the road projects that we have that are so critical to Decatur, improved," Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said. "It's critical that we're able to move freight as well as people, but what we're really trying to do here is grow our economy and make sure IDOT knows our priorities."

The gas tax doubled to 38 cents per gallon July 1, making it the first motor fuel tax increase since 1990. The tax was set to help fund Gov. J.B. Pritzker's $45 billion "Rebuild Illinois" infrastructure plan. 

Speakers at Wednesday's breakfast were Jeff Myers, the engineer for IDOT's Region 4, and Greg Lupton and Stephanie Seck of the Central Bureau of Local Roads and Streets. They described how local motor fuel tax money is divided among state and local projects according to a formula.

Greg Lupton

Greg Lupton, from the Illinois Department of Transportation's Central Bureau of Local Roads and Streets, talks about the state's motor fuel tax. 

One bit of information they couldn't provide: what projects are being undertaken as part of the capital plan. 

"Specifics on projects that are going to be in the plan, I really can’t speak much to that until it’s released," Myers said, adding: "I’m hopeful that will be released later this month. That’s what I was hoping last month as well."

IDOT's Region 4 encompasses Districts 6 and 7, home to 36,208 miles of Central Illinois roadways. The region covers a horizontal band of 31 counties stretching from the Mississippi River to the Indiana state line. 

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Along with the 19-cent-per-gallon increase, state lawmakers this year added an additional 5-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel. In the future, the motor fuel tax will increase annually by the consumer price index, capped at an increase of 1 cent per year. 

Legislation also shifted 1% of Illinois’ sales tax on motor fuel to the road fund every year beginning July 1, 2021. For cars and passenger trucks, registration fees will go from $101 to $151 beginning Jan. 1, while electric vehicles will be charged a $248 registration annual fee, up from $35 every two years.

Public Works Director Matt Newell previously said Decatur receives around $2 million in state motor fuel tax revenue, estimating the city could see an increase of more than 60% in revenue because of the tax increase enacted in July.

Home-rule municipalities have the option to set their own local motor fuel taxes, and Decatur city leaders did so in 2016. The tax is 5 cents per gallon for unleaded fuel and 1 cent per gallon for diesel, and city leaders said the money would be used to repair dilapidated neighborhood streets and other infrastructure. 

Chamber breakfast

The Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce hosted the Illinois Department of Transportation at their September business breakfast Wednesday at the Decatur Club.

Moore Wolfe said the city’s and county’s top priorities are bridge repairs and the beltway being planned on Decatur's east side, as they are critical to major companies for getting trucks in and out of the city to ship product.

The city of Decatur recently allocated nearly $50,000 in state motor fuel tax repair two bridges. The Decatur City Council voted Tuesday 7-0 to approve construction and spending for repairs to the West Mound Road bridge over Stevens Creek, which will cost about $30,000. The council also approved spending and repairs to the Grove Road bridge, costing $18,050.

In 2020, city leaders also plan to begin constructing an overpass carrying road traffic on Brush College road over Faries Parkway.

“We also are very interested in seeing our regular highways repaved, because they’re a mess,” Moore Wolfe said. “IDOT has a pretty big backlog, but it’s important.”

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Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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