Late winter is a good time to think about management of the county’s complicated road system, made up of many more players than you may realize until you have an issue to resolve (Potholes are coming!).
Most folks are aware that the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for the fantastic interstate highways we enjoy, but there are many other layers of government responsible for sections of county roads. Some projects include not only roads, but also bike and walking paths and public transit.
The state of Illinois also owns some roads, mostly connecting towns along routes to bigger cities. Like the interstates, they have route numbers, but many sections are known by the towns they connect. Examples include Bloomington Road (U.S. 150 from Champaign to Bloomington) and Philo Road (Illinois 130 from Urbana to Philo) in Champaign County.
Municipalities are responsible for construction and maintenance of roads inside their city/village limits, although they often apply for state or federal matching funds to assist with construction costs of big projects. It takes about $1 million to build a mile of road, and more for the land acquisition, signs, curbs, lights and landscaping in urban areas. The Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study, housed at the Regional Planning Commission, is an intergovernmental consortium that coordinates C-U transportation, because projects often include intersections with highways and shared streets (like Wright Street).
Many smaller road sections and bridges in rural areas are owned by townships, which have elected road commissioners to oversee them. Because these roadways often were laid out along farm boundaries, the road commissioners work closely with neighboring landowners and drainage district commissioners to plan maintenance or snow removal. Sometimes during bad weather, road commissioners are called on to plow the roadway to a remote homestead ahead of an emergency vehicle.
Some rural roads and bridges are owned and managed by the county. In addition to road maintenance, the highway engineer is also responsible for coordination among the various levels of government where intersections or issues occur, including where county roads continue into neighboring counties.
In addition to property taxes, the county’s highway budget relies heavily on state motor fuel taxes, which were raised last year to 38 cents a gallon to catch up with costs that have more than doubled over the past 20 years. With county board approval, bridge funds also can “trickle down” to supplement township funds for significant repairs on township bridges. The two main goals of the county’s highway department are providing adequate access to all areas of the county and keeping roadways safe for traveling.
The county has a road-improvement and -maintenance plan that is updated by regular assessment of every roadbed in the county. Data collected via special equipment and cameras as vehicles drive each road guides decisions about what type of maintenance is planned for the most efficient and effective use of funds. If you’re interested in getting updates about current work on the county’s road system, the highway committee meets at 9 a.m. on the first Friday of each month. Agendas are posted at co.champaign.il.us.
When road equipment breaks down, when funding is short for repairs, or when the weather just overwhelms the efforts of workers, we sure can complain! However, if things are synchronized smoothly, we barely notice. When was the last time you took a moment to say thanks to someone who helped make that happen?