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Tolling Points

Highway Budget Debate Showed Economic Risk of Project Delays

Bill Cramer

$345 million per week in economic activity. 43,000 jobs at risk. Just before the summer break, in the dying days of Illinois’ budget debate, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) did the whole transportation community a service by putting some numbers to the dire consequences of a “prolonged” shutdown of state highway projects.

In the end, the state budget passed, about a week after ARTBA and its state affiliate, the Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association, expressed the consequences. But a contentious budget fight was a good reminder that transportation infrastructure does more than keep the country mobile and move America forward. It also drives jobs and economic development for communities across the land.

The severity of the crisis averted was a reflection of the scale of Illinois’ transportation ambitions.

“The Illinois shutdown would stop work on 900 highway and bridge projects valued at $2.2 billion,” Better Roads reported, citing analysis by ARTBA Chief Economist Allison Premo Black. In the first week, 11,000 highway, street, and bridge contractor employees would have been idled.

“Each year, that $2.2 billion in annual highway and bridge construction spending adds up to more than $5.7 billion in total economic output for Illinois businesses, and adds nearly $3 billion to the state’s GDP,” the publication noted. “Highway project delays result in direct and indirect costs to the public, including wasted time and fuel for travelers in the corridor, the effect on businesses and their consumers from the increased roadway congestion, construction cost increases, and the economic impact of project delays.”

Moreover, even a one-month delay can translate into a 1.0 to 1.5% increase in project costs. Which adds up fast, when each of those 900 projects is valued in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Economic impact isn’t the lead argument for tolled capacity or other highway projects—it’s an outgrowth of infrastructure designed to deliver safer, more reliable mobility. But transportation is by no means the only area where substantive arguments based on policy or public interest carry a lot farther, a lot faster when jobs are at stake.

It’s a great strategy to keep in mind the next time a new tolling project is up for consideration along a roadway near you.

From the mobility it delivers to the construction and maintenance projects it makes possible, tolling is a powerful economic driver. Learn more from IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign.