URBANA — Mayor Laurel Prussing says state officials have promised to pass down $3 million in federal money to start fixing Windsor Road this summer.
All that's left is formalizing the agreement through a local transportation board, and Prussing said the overhaul of the road can start after July 1. That's almost a year ahead of what city officials had previously thought was a best-case-scenario timeline.
The $3 million is about half of the expected cost of rebuilding Windsor Road between Philo Road and Race Street. Prussing said the city will now prepare to issue $3 million in debt to cover the other half and keep the project on track for this summer.
Tuesday's announcement seems like good timing — last week, city officials shut down the worst parts of Windsor Road because deep potholes had made it undrivable. But the timing may be a coincidence, Prussing said. She's been working since last fall to secure the state money.
"We started this way back in October," Prussing said. "Maybe all the publicity last week spurred it."
Prussing said she spoke with Gov. Pat Quinn about Windsor Road when he was in town on Oct. 14. Within days, Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider promised $250,000 in state money for the initial engineering designs of the new road.
On Tuesday, Schneider promised $3 million more for construction.
"Without this funding and the close cooperation between IDOT and the City of Urbana, these much-needed improvements to Windsor Road would have taken years longer to complete, driving up local maintenance costs and putting area motorists at constant risk of damaging their vehicles," Schneider said in a press release. "I am especially proud of the continued teamwork between the state and the city that has helped to address an urgent local need and enabled this project to go forward as quickly as possible."
The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration's surface transportation funds, which are distributed by IDOT. With shortfalls plaguing the city's budget and no local money available for the $6 million Windsor Road project, it's $3 million that Urbana desperately needed to move the project forward.
"This has been our top priority, and that's what I told the governor last summer," Prussing said. "But we had no way to finance it."
The Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study still needs to sign off on the earmark for Urbana. They could give their approval April 9, and the money would become available July 1. CUUATS officials have already expressed informal support for the project.
Prussing joked again on Tuesday that maybe Carle Foundation Hospital could pay for the new road and have it named for the hospital. She was referencing an ongoing dispute with Carle over its property tax-exempt status.
That status, granted in a state law passed in 2012, eliminated more than $6 million in property tax revenue to Champaign County governments.
"We just got put in a bind by the hospital thing," Prussing said. "But there's also the long-term problem that motor fuel tax revenues have not kept up with the demand of upkeep of infrastructure in the U.S. This is not unique to Urbana."
Prussing expects crews will be able to keep the road open to through-traffic during the construction. She said she was not sure the entire project will be done before the end of the year.
"At least we'll have a good head start on it for this year," Prussing said.
Windsor Road has fallen victim to an alkali-silica reaction, which is a chemical problem that causes the 22-year-old road to fall apart on its own. This winter's extreme conditions have accelerated its deterioration.
The only permanent fix is to tear out the old concrete and pave a new road. Until that happens this summer, the city has hired Cross Construction to fill the existing potholes to keep the road drivable. The problem, she said, is that crews cannot patch potholes in temperatures below 25 degrees.
It's the same extreme winter conditions that destroyed the road in the past couple months that is preventing them from fixing it right now, Prussing said.
"We know we have to get the roads fixed, but there's the physical constraints of the weather," she said.