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Starr Report

Crime in our Communities
Wed., Oct. 14, 1998

Illinois 255 open from I-270 to 143

By SANFORD J. SCHMIDT

WOOD RIVER -- Gov. Jim Edgar helped celebrate the opening of the southern leg of the Alton Bypass on Tuesday, but told reporters after the hoopla that getting money to finish the job could take years.

Edgar said in an interview that his administration tried to get gasoline tax and license fee increases passed to replenish the state's poverty-stricken road construction fund.

"We couldn't convince the Legislature to do that,'' he said.

He said he doubts any legislator will even talk about a tax increase or fee increases before the Nov. 3 election, but held out hope a tax increase or some form of "revenue enhancement'' might pass in the coming year.

Edgar spoke before a crowd of several hundred community leaders, politicians and transportation officials at the Madison Avenue overpass of the route, now known as Illinois 255. He pointed out that the completed 6.8-mile portion will mean great things for Wood River and the surrounding area.

"This highway is an important addition to the transportation infrastructure of the Metro East area,'' the governor said. "It will provide a valuable corridor of economic growth between Alton and Interstate 270, and is a vital link to the interstate system around the greater St. Louis region.

"Illinois 255 will provide much-needed relief to traffic congestion on existing state highways and local roads in the area.

We estimate that 8,000 vehicles per day will use this highway when it is opened, and that number is expected to increase to more than 28,000 vehicles per day within 10 years.''

The first section of the route extends from I-270-255 west of Edwardsville, north to Illinois Route 143 in Wood River. It will provide access to the interstate system around the St. Louis region.

Engineering and land acquisition is proceeding for the extension from Route 143 to Illinois Route 267 in Godfrey. Construction of the remaining 15 miles of the bypass is expected to cost about $200 million, adjusted for inflation.

IDOT District Engineer Jim Easterly said it will cost $75 million more to build the bypass through to Illinois Route 140 and another $100 million to build the next section from Route 140 to Route 267. Inflation could bring the final total to $200 million.

Transportation officials have said there is no money in the budget for construction of any new highways, but they would like to complete the job as soon as possible.

"We want to keep going to Alton,'' Easterly said.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, told reporters after the speech that the state may be able to find money in existing surpluses to fund needed highway construction without having to enact additional taxes or fees.

"There are all kinds of options, but we should stop diverting funds from the highway fund,'' Hoffman said.

But Edgar cautioned against digging into cash on hand to pay for highways.

"We do not have a surplus; we have a cash balance,'' Edgar said.

He said that with the shaky state of the world economy, state officials should be cautious about overspending the cash on hand.

"We may be thankful some day to have a balance,'' Edgar said.

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