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Prairie State Pothole Conundrum

Monday, January 15, 2018

Does it seem like the roads in Illinois are worse every year?  Underlying highway funding issues may partly explain the conditions of our roads.  One of the primary sources of revenue to fix roads in Illinois is the motor fuel tax (MFT) which is a flat 19 cents per gallon paid at the pump.  Another primary source is motor vehicle revenue (MVR) which includes vehicle registration fees and driver’s license fees.  As far as government taxes or fees go MFT and MVR are user taxes or fees paid for only by those who use our roads on a pay as you go basis.  Contrast user taxes for roads with a homeowner without children paying real estate taxes for schools. 

The MFT has been 19 cents a gallon since 1990 while MVR has had increases over this time-period.  Total MFT and MVR funding has flatlined since the “Great Recession” due to a decrease in total miles driven and more fuel-efficient vehicles or vehicles that do not use any gas at all.  To make matters worse since 1990 the percentage of MFT and MVR collected actually spent on roadways has decreased from 100% to less than 80%.[1] All the while highway construction costs have increased 300%! [2]

Illinois is not unique with highway funding issues.  Oregon is experimenting with a 1.5 cents per mile tax in lieu of a gas tax to address the concern that some day no vehicles on the road will be powered by gas.  Imagine a device in your car that reports your miles driven to the State of Illinois or self-reporting your miles driven on a revised state income tax return.  Other states have raised MFT or gas taxes over time to keep pace with highway construction costs.

What Springfield does going forward is anyone’s guess.  The idea of paying more taxes or fees so that we see more message boards flashing “Road Construction Ahead” so that we do dodge fewer potholes should give all of us pause.


Joe Regis, PE, PTOE, CFM is a Professional Traffic Operations Engineer at Hamilton Consulting Engineers, Inc.
and can be reached at 815-730-3444.


[1] Illinois Department of Transportation Reports:
 “For the Record” Annual Report, Fiscal Years 1990-2014
  “Illinois Highway Mileage and Street Statistics—2014”
  “Illinois Highway Statistics Sheet 2014”

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Construction Cost Indexes
   Federal Highway Safety Administration, National Highway Construction Cost Index—Oct, 2017