Raise the gas tax in Illinois? Former secretary of transportation says it's needed to repair roads

A former transportation secretary under President Obama is urging Illinois lawmakers to raise the state's gas tax to fund better roads and bridges. 

On Tuesday, President Trump and top Democrats in Congress are set to discuss how the federal government should pay for big public works improvements.

One of the busiest bridges in the south suburbs was recently found to be in "intolerable" condition and urgently needing repair or it could end up like the section of Lake Shore Drive that was forced to close down earlier this year.

“The debate in the country and the debate in Illinois is not over what to fix,” said Ray LaHood, former Illinois Congressman, and Transportation Secretary. “Everybody knows that. The debate is how do we pay for it.”

Former Peoria Congressman Ray LaHood, a Republican who was President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, told a State Senate Committee that raising Illinois’s motor fuel tax on gasoline and diesel would not anger voters.

“Illinois is one big pothole right now! We've had these brutal winters,” said LaHood. “And people are complaining about potholes. I believe that, if the General Assembly raised the gas tax and fixed up the roads and bridges, people would be very happy. “

A poll for the Triple-A Motor Club last month found 74 percent of Illinoisans opposed raising the motor fuel tax, with a similar number believing current funding is not spent wisely.

Possible sources of new money under discussion include not just the gas tax, but a tax based on "miles driven", which faces fierce opposition, private investment in public works and new roadway tolls.

Officials argue transportation improvements bring economic growth.

“85 percent of all new commercial construction in the last 10 years was within half a mile of mass transit,” said Kirk Dillard, Regional Transportation Authority Chairman. 

The same can be said for 50 percent of new jobs here in the last decade, all within a half-mile of a mass transit station.