DECATUR — A hike in the motor fuel tax is giving Decatur new revenues to start a series of long-delayed road projects.
The gas tax doubled to 38 cents a gallon July 1, the first motor fuel tax increase since 1990. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation which was created to help his “Rebuild Illinois Plan” that will finance a total of $45 billion in public works projects to improve bridges, roads and other infrastructure.
A number of state highways, including U.S. 51 through Decatur, are earmarked for improvement in the next five years under the capital plan. The increase in state motor fuel tax proceeds, however, also means that the city is likely to receive more state money to fund its own projects.
"We are very grateful for the attention Macon County and Decatur is receiving for road projects," Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said. "We have such a record of cooperation between the city and the county in making sure we get what we need done."
City officials created a five-year plan for each of the projects that will receive funds from state motor fuel tax, including a grade separation for Brush College Road at Faries Parkway; improvements for bridges on Mound Road, Garfield Avenue, Country Club Road and others; railroad crossing improvements; and traffic signal improvements.
City Manager Scot Wrighton said most of the state motor fuel tax revenue goes back into the state and not local governments but there is a formula where counties and municipalities get a portion of the money.
"What this (state motor fuel tax revenue increase) does is it puts more money into the system," Wrighton said. "Based on that, we might get more."
The city usually receives about $1.9 million in state motor fuel tax revenue. The allocation is expected to increase to $3.2 million per year with new revenues, according to a narrative included with the city's budget proposal. The council will vote on the budget in December.
A portion of funding will also go toward materials for street maintenance and repairs, traffic signal maintenance, bridge inspections and other items, according to city documents.
Brush College Road
The Brush College Road improvement project has been in the works for nearly a decade. It includes several major components: the overpass at Faries Parkway; an overpass just a few blocks south to take vehicles over a Norfolk Southern-owned rail yard; and a state project to widen the intersection with East William Street Road and expand Brush College Road from two lanes to four lanes, officials have said.
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Officials have said the overpass would eliminate the city's longest train delays, according to a 2013 transportation study.
"Brush College Road is and has been a top priority for the city," Moore Wolfe said.
The current phase of work is estimated to cost about $40 million, while officials previously put the cost of the full project at more than $80 million.
Wrighton said the state motor fuel tax will fund a portion of the project. Public Works Director Matt Newell previously estimated that number at $4 million.
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced last year a $25 million grant from the federal government to go toward the overpass. The funds comes from the Illinois Competitive Freight Program.
The city in the last few months has taken several steps to move the project forward. Council members have approved the purchase of several properties in the area where construction will occur.
The council has approved the following agreements:
- A $4.8 million agreement with Ameren Illinois Company to relocate the electrical substation at 1840 N. Brush College Rd. The funds would be covered in three ways: $2 million in freight funds, $2 million in Illinois Commerce Commission, pending approval, and $818,000 in state motor fuel tax funds.
- A $450,000 agreement for the land acquisition of three properties: 1940 N. Brush College Rd., 3925 E. Faries Parkway and a vacant lot to its immediate west. Officials said the funding would come solely from state motor fuel tax. The expenditure would be reimbursed in full by state grant money.
City officials have also created a five-year plan to improve residential streets, which would be funded by local motor fuel tax revenue. The annual local motor fuel tax street improvement project will fund approximately $1.34 million in residential street capital road improvements. City officials typically release information about what streets are to be targeted each year in the spring.
All the upcoming construction could lead to some traffic delays, Moore Wolfe acknowledged, but that's a good thing.
"Everyone wants our roads to be fixed," she said, "so I would say, be prepared for traffic delays."