Chi LSD downer yields call to up infrastructure

Mayor Emanuel says it’s not just about preventing disasters, but increasing jobs

A looming near-disaster on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive illustrates the pressing need for statewide investment in infrastructure, according to Mayor Emanuel. (Twitter/The Daily Line)

A looming near-disaster on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive illustrates the pressing need for statewide investment in infrastructure, according to Mayor Emanuel. (Twitter/The Daily Line)

By Ted Cox

The closing of Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive due to a beam failure this week has led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to renew calls for a major capital infrastructure bill statewide.

The northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive closed Monday after an electrician making repairs detected beams in danger of failing on the bridge across the Chicago River. In remarks Tuesday, Emanuel said “a temporary fix” had reopened the drive, popularly known as LSD, while permanent repairs were completed.

According to Emanuel, “spot checks” across the city on “similar structures” were being conducted, as the beam failure was blamed on the brutal cold temperatures that recently hit Chicago. But he said it illustrated the need for the state to pass a new major capital spending bill on infrastructure.

“I have advocated for what is required, which is a raise in the gas tax to invest in our roads, our bridges, and our mass-transit system,” Emanuel said. “Twenty-four states have done it — a lot of states in the Midwest in the last four years — because they can’t rely on Washington, and they know it’s essential for the health and well-being of the economy.”

Emanuel pointed to how the Chicago Transit Authority continued to function during the most recent “polar vortex” cold snap, but other Metra suburban lines were crippled. “They all need investment,” he added.

Yet he quickly pivoted to insist it’s not just about preventive measures, but about creating the environment to sustain growth in business and manufacturing.

Citing Ford’s announcement last week that it would be adding 500 jobs and investing $900 million in its Chicago assembly plant, Emanuel said, “They have literally been closing plants across the country, but they doubled down on the investment to bring 500 more jobs here. That’s because of the investment in transportation” the city made earlier in and around the South Side plant, including a pedestrian bridge.

Pointing out that Ford earlier added 1,200 jobs at the plant, he said, “Rather than closing the factory, they’ve added more than 1,700 jobs because we invested in the infrastructure — in the bridge, in the roads in and around the plant.

“If you invest, yes, you can prevent what we just saw on Lake Shore Drive,” Emanuel added, “but if you make smart investments, which is what we did in partnership with the state, you’ll get in this case 1,700 direct manufacturing jobs at the Ford plant, and all the other manufacturing suppliers that come to support the Ford plant. … It actually produces a lot of jobs and makes companies, factories, office workers — everybody — much more efficient.”

Emanuel added, “The bridge is a wake-up call. Ford? You get more if you invest more.”

Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose downtown 42nd Ward includes the LSD bridge, also said it demonstrated the need for investment, tweeting, “Paging Springfield: we need a capital bill stat.”

A year ago, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute issued a paper finding that Illinois Department of Transportation roadways have deteriorated over the last two decades due to lack of repairs and the failure to pass a major capital-spending bill. ILEPI charged that 20 percent of IDOT roads are rated in “poor” condition, up from 8 percent in 2001, and 31 percent of all bridges across the state, almost a third, are more than 50 years old, with 8 percent of IDOT bridges considered “backlogged,” meaning overdue for replacement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker pledged to pass a major capital spending bill in his inaugural address last month.

Pointing out that upgrading O’Hare International Airport, as well as adding 4G technology to the city’s mass transit, had helped lure companies to Chicago, Emanuel said Tuesday the benefits to be gained from investing in infrastructure were many. “So if you invest in your transportation system — roads, runways, and rail — you are likely not only to get the jobs directly from it, but be able to lure more and more investment and greater job growth. So it’s a net gain in job growth across a spectrum.”