Champaign council discusses balancing infrastructure needs with recession concerns

Champaign council discusses balancing infrastructure needs with recession concerns

CHAMPAIGN — There's something many financial analysts seem to agree on currently, including those who forecast economic development in the city of Champaign — a recession is coming.

The effects of the last recession, which started with the 2007 financial crisis, are still being felt today.

Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight said in 2010 and 2011, the city had to face tough decisions when it came to what it wanted to fund and what it had to do without. Often, that meant focusing on maintenance projects while leaving large arterial-street projects, infrastructure expansions and other projects on the back burner, he said.

"The capital improvement fund is the most likely place to make cuts" in the event of a recession, Knight said Tuesday night before the Champaign City Council. "It's always possible that a recession would see us cut funding. We did that back in 2010 and 2011. We had to delay projects, and we're really just now catching up. It's taken us until now to repay the fund and get back to full funding of capital projects."

During his presentation on the city's capital improvement plan, a 10-year infrastructure plan reviewed by council members each year, Knight said he's concerned about the impact delaying infrastructure investment would have on the city's streets.

A recession would eliminate the flexibility to add new projects and address needs that pop up, he said.

"It's good to be able to have that flexibility," Knight said. "When we had recent pedestrian fatalities on Bradley Avenue, we were able to put together a project and make some improvements."

Over the last 10 years, the city has been seeing a gradual decline in pavement condition, Knight said. The percentage of streets in satisfactory or good condition is declining, while those in fair or poor condition are increasing. Those numbers come from annual studies of pavement conditions in the city.

Council member Alicia Beck made clear that she's committed to putting road maintenance at the top of her priorities when the council sets its goals in the coming months.

"We need to start thinking about the needs for keeping our infrastructure, our paved streets, in good condition," Beck said. "It should become a prime goal of this council to figure out how we're going to fund those projects we need. One of the things that will help me is a clearer look at streets according to the kinds of stress they are under. I think that will help us understand the issue."

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