PEORIA — I don't know.
It's a common refrain heard from Peoria County officials in the wake of voters soundly rejecting a referendum that would have increased the county sales tax by a quarter percent by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. The tax was to have run for 15 years, providing about $67 million specifically earmarked for road maintenance. It was the only referendum to fail on the Nov. 8 ballot that asked for an increase in taxes. Two others, dealing with schools and veterans' issues, passed.
"I can't tell you when projects will get done because we don't have the money," said County Administrator Scott Sorrel.
Added County Engineer Amy McLaren, who heads the highway department, "We'll have to save up for projects that are similar to scope to the Northmoor project."
And James Dillon, the board member who chairs the transportation committee?
"I have been asked about what I think our plan B is. And I have to tell people that there is no plan B because we are out of options."
Sorrel said the overall road budget, which includes salt, pothole repair, reconstruction and maintenance, is about $6 million a year. But the current spending for major reconstruction projects, about $3 million a year, wouldn't maintain the status quo, he said. Rather, continuing at the same spending levels will cause further degradation.
The county maintains about 315 miles of pavement with most of those miles in the rural sections of the county. Thirteen miles, however, are in the city of Peoria.
The county uses a pavement condition index, or PCI, to gauge the status of a road's surface and prioritize repairs. The PCI is a numeric scale ranging from zero to 100 and offers an objective look at the type, extent and severity of the damage to the pavement. Ideally, roads should have a 70, considered fair on the PCI scale, which is seen as a compromise between a too-costly 100 and a lesser, more unsafe score. On average, the pavement condition of all county roads is 58, the lower end of "fair" on the scale. Two-thirds of the county's roads are rated at fair or lower, which means they have a rating of 70 or less.
McLaren said filling pot holes and overlays — replacing the top surface of a road — will continue but the bigger reconstruction projects will be more spread out. Dillon noted that's a problem as the roads can deteriorate further, then costing more.
"Weather is hard on roads here," he said.
Putting a new surface on a road doesn't fix the underlying problem. It's like spray-painting a car to hide the rust. It's still there, he said.
Sorrel also noted it was a chance to spark the economy with lots of construction jobs.
"This is a lost opportunity for the county," Sorrel said. "We had the ability to put people to work to improve the transportation network. Unfortunately, that opportunity is now lost."
Dillon said the County Board could consider raising a portion of the property tax by 21/2 cents. The money would go to cover the county's match toward federal and state grants, but that's unlikely as the board has shown it's largely against property tax hikes. And Dillon pointed out that would bring in about $500,000 a year, far less than the estimated $4 million to $5 million the sales tax increase would have raised.
So what does this mean?
Those three words keep coming up.
I don't know.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.