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Representative Darin LaHood

Representing the 18th District of Illinois

The Backbone of our District

April 1, 2018
Op-Ed

Transportation infrastructure is the backbone of our district. It transports people to their jobs, children to school, commodities from farms to sale, products to retail, and even information to consumers. A reliable, efficient, and safe infrastructure network is vital for our country, but for too long we have ignored long-term investment in this area. President Trump and Congress are determined to correct that in 2018.

Right after I arrived in Congress in 2015, Congress debated and passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the first long-term highway bill in over a decade. I was asked by Speaker Ryan to serve as a conferee during the negotiations with the Senate over the bill, and advocated for more focus on our roads, bridges, transit systems, and rail transportation network. The end result was a bipartisan bill that I am still proud of, but no one was under the illusion that all of America’s infrastructure problems had been solved.

For central and west-central Illinois, there remains plenty of work to be done. On our roads and rails, America’s freight system carries 48.3 million tons of goods worth $46 billion every day. That’s 57 tons of freight per American every year. Despite the importance of quality roads to freight travel and the relatively high number of manufacturers in our state, the last Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Illinois’ roads a D+. Not only have we failed to expand our roads to keep up with population growth, but traffic congestion, especially in Chicago and St. Louis, costs our economy billions in lost productivity every year. While IDOT has attempted to fix some of the problems, it is clear that we need major investment just to bring our roads and highways up to acceptable levels. The $3 billion over five years provided for Illinois in the FAST Act will only get us so far.

Since agriculture is the top industry of the 18th District and our entire state, waterway transportation is vital. Our nation’s waterways carry more than 600 million tons of cargo worth over $230 billion every year, with the Illinois River alone accounting for around 65,000 tons annually. As much as we have worked to upgrade our locks and dams along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, our local waterway systems remain far behind where they need to be. A long-term infrastructure package would serve as a catalyst to get moving on upgrades, as many of the plans have already been prepared.  

Illinois’ infrastructure problems are not the fault of a single political party, and the solution cannot come from just one party either. With President Trump calling for a $1.5 trillion investment during his State of the Union, we now have a real chance to bring our nation’s infrastructure into the 21st Century. The level of funding and how to pay for the investments will undoubtedly be debated here in Congress, but it is my hope that we listen to the President’s call for bipartisanship and deliver for the American people. The safety and upkeep of our transportation infrastructure affects every American, and I will work hard to ensure that the people of central and west-central Illinois’ voices are heard loud and clear throughout this process.