Gov. renews pressure on lawmakers to approve construction plan

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich pointed to the upcoming anniversary of last year’s fatal Minnesota bridge collapse to renew pressure on lawmakers Tuesday to pass a stalled capital plan to repair Illinois’ infrastructure.

Blagojevich’s office indicated there would be room for compromise at a meeting the Democratic governor has called with top legislative leaders at his Chicago office later this week.

That includes reducing the price tag of the proposed $34 billion statewide construction program and possibly nixing some of the gambling components that would have paid for it, said Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.

“He’s looking for things … trying to get past this blockade,” Guerrero said.

Lawmakers have complained about fatal flaws in a gambling expansion measure that would authorize three new casinos, including one in downtown Chicago, but under terms Mayor Richard Daley doesn’t like.

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    Others have complained they don’t trust Blagojevich to fulfill project commitments in a sweeping multibillion-dollar capital plan.

    Blagojevich said he wants top lawmakers to meet with him Thursday because a statewide construction program could prevent a tragedy in Illinois.

    A review of records last year by The Associated Press found that more than 1,500 Illinois bridges had worse structural ratings than the Minnesota bridge that collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds.

    According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 4,300 bridges, or 16.7 percent of Illinois bridges are labeled “deficient.” That percentage ranks Illinois sixth best in the nation.

    “While there is a strong economic development and economic stimulus component behind the infrastructure bill … what’s even more important than that is making sure the citizens of Illinois … can travel on roads and on bridges that are safe,” Blagojevich said at an event in Chicago.

    Blagojevich and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been at odds over a capital bill because they can’t agree on how to do it or how to pay for it. Earlier this month, House lawmakers rejected the gambling expansion that would have provided the major source of funding money.

    Democratic Senate President Emil Jones, House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson are expected to attend the meeting, Blagojevich said. He said he had not heard from Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

    Madigan, who has feuded with the governor, has previously declined meetings with him, calling such gatherings unproductive. Madigan usually sends surrogates to meetings with Blagojevich and will do so again on Thursday, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

    Blagojevich’s proposed capital plan is plagued by defects, Brown said.

    “If they want to address the defects that might help,” he said.

    Illinois needs a capital program to fix roads, bridges and schools, especially after what happened in Minnesota, transportation officials said.

    “The legislators in that state waited too long and compromised the safety of their citizens,” said Tod Faerber, president of the Illinois Road Builders Association. “We do not want to get to that point.”