Is Improved Rural Illinois Transportation in the Future?

By Mike Levin, senior director of government affairs

roads and bridges pie chartIt’s been a little more than a year since Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law the Rebuild Illinois program, a six-year, $45 billion plan that includes $33.2 billion earmarked for transportation projects, including $25.3 billion for roads and bridges with lesser amounts each to be invested in mass transit, rail, grade crossing protection and ports.

So, what does that mean for Illinois farmers?

For starters, the historic, bipartisan legislation gives Illinois its first capital commitments in nearly a decade – and the governor believes the most robust in history. Rebuild Illinois is the largest, multimodal capital program ever, with virtually every aspect of infrastructure included.

We hope that is good news for Illinois soybean farmers, given the deterioration in the roads and bridges relied upon to move our goods to market. A few years ago, research studies confirmed just how much soybean farmers stand to lose if rural transportation systems are not improved.

The report, funded by the soybean checkoff and conducted by Informa Economics, Inc., found current inadequacies in the Illinois transportation system resulted in as much as $1 per bushel added expense. The study also found that increasing road weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds would decrease the need for drivers moving ag products by about 20 percent, which could save $84 million industry-wide per year. Even if trucks operated with 91,000 gross vehicle weight ratings, significant efficiency and profitability improvements would result.

Informa also concluded many Illinois bridges are unfit to support modern farm equipment. That requires farmers to travel longer distances to avoid them. Researchers studied a subset of bridges and estimated an average return of $10.24 to a local economy for every dollar invested in repairs.

Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG) has shared this information with lawmakers in Springfield and continues work to find ways to spend transportation-earmarked taxpayer dollars effectively on rural soy movement infrastructure. Unfortunately, funding has been largely inadequate during the last 20 years, forcing local communities and Illinois counties to focus on whatever maintenance they could afford rather than on replacing infrastructure that needs to be replaced.

We know the state and counties can’t fix every road and bridge. By prioritizing the routes that go to elevators or river terminals, it would improve the outlook for soybean farmers.

Crumbling roads, railroads, waterways and underutilized intermodal containers make Illinois soybeans less competitive in domestic and international markets, decrease efficiency, erode productivity and foreshadow future cost increases for Illinois farmers.

I invite you to monitor and engage in our efforts by joining the Voice for Soy movement. Visit VoiceforSoy.org to learn more and receive alerts to talk with your legislator about infrastructure.