SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois business and labor leaders Tuesday called on Congress to pass a long-term federal transportation bill to create jobs and help revamp the state’s crumbling transportation system.

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois business and labor leaders Tuesday called on Congress to pass a long-term federal transportation bill to create jobs and help revamp the state’s crumbling transportation system.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition said Illinois and the country as a whole needs a long-term funding commitment from Washington rather than the series of stopgap funding plans approved by Congress in recent years.

“That way, business and construction companies will be able to know what is down the road,” said Michael Kleinik, executive director of the Laborers District Council of Chicago.  

“You have to plan to invest in equipment,” said Matt Davidson, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Illinois.  “You can’t decide today to build a road tomorrow.”

The group not only wants action, but wants it quickly.  Coalition co-chairman Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said the group has been working with the Illinois congressional delegation about passing a long-term transportation funding bill “early in the new calendar year.”

“This has been sitting on the back burner for way too long,” he said.

In fact, several members of the Illinois delegation agree that a long-term federal transportation bill is needed.  U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock co-authored a letter to President Barack Obama outlining the need for a six-year program.  The letter was signed by 111 other members of Congress, including Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, and Tim Johnson, R-Urbana.  The letter drew signatures from equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus’ name does not appear on the letter, but Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said Shimkus has no specific objections to it.

“Congressman Shimkus would support a needed short-term extension if that would give the time necessary to work on a serious long-term transportation bill that is fiscally responsible,” Tomaszewski said.  “

How to pay for a long-term bill could be an issue.

Whitley said the group believes it is time for an increase in revenue for the federal highway trust fund. However, he said an increase in the federal fuel tax apparently is off the table and the coalition is not endorsing any specific funding proposal.

Schock spokesman Steve Dutton said Schock thinks revenue could come from new oil and gas leasing fees resulting from increased domestic energy production.

The Illinois Department of Transportation could not single out specific Springfield projects that hinge on a long-term federal highway program.  Spokesman Josh Kauffman said, though, that up to 80 percent of the cost of interstate and bridge improvement projects comes from Washington, so an increase in federal funding would benefit the department.

Whitley said next year’s elections should not prevent passage of a federal transportation bill.

“Congress understands that jobs and the economy are fundamental to re-election cycles,” he said.  “Passing a highway bill that does, in fact, put people to work is something that should have bipartisan support.”

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.