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Illinois Politics Fractures Construction Industry

If you put all the abandoned construction sites in Illinois together, it might look like a scene from “I Am Legend” where New York becomes a desolate, abandoned city except for lone survivor Will Smith who finds the cure and defeats the Dark Seekers. The gridlock of Illinois politics has left half-done buildings strewn throughout the state. Like Smith, it’s time our state found a cure.

In an article in the “State Journal-Register” late last year, the Associated Press revealed that work stoppage last July “affected 419 contracts affiliated with 218 job sites.” The cost? A staggering $700 million worth of stalled projects left without further notice. The article then cites that 95 of those job sites were under construction per a spokeswoman for the Capital Development Board. Mild winter aside, the cost of protecting job sites from weather and theft is no small investment.

Numbers, though, don’t tell the everyday story behind the budget crisis impacting construction. Illinois gridlock takes a twisted, viscous shape when the fallout hits real people – like veterans, for instance.

The new Illinois Veterans Home, on the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Forest Preserve Drive, was to provide healthcare and residency for 200 people who served our country. Funding stopped construction abruptly last July. A “Chicago Sun-Times” article describes the building as it stands now: “The exterior walls of the five-story structure are propped up with temporary braces, snow and ice taking up residence where workers ought to be making headway to complete the $70.5 million facility.” Today, it stands locked and abandoned. During his re-election campaign, Governor Pat Quinn heralded the site as one of the most important buildings “being constructed in the state of Illinois.”

Today, the Republicans and Democrats are at a standstill. The latter group cites that a bill to reallocate funds for the project would be shot down by Governor Bruce Rauner. Yet, the governor’s staff says he cited the project in his 2016 budget. Until we see workable solutions and collaboration, unfinished construction projects and abandoned buildings will remain.

Projects at Illinois colleges and universities have taken a hit as well. According to the Associated Press: “$463 million — 65 percent of the total cost of stalled projects — is devoted to 81 campus projects at more than two dozen schools. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had to find alternate classroom space for 100 students because work at the veterinary medicine school stopped. At the University of Illinois Springfield, two projects have been delayed, including the construction of the new Public Safety Building. Upgrades to three buildings at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine also have been postponed.”