The State Journal-Register says that the ongoing problems with the electrical system at the Illinois State Fairgrounds shows the need for a capital plan.
It certainly was timely that the electrical system at the Illinois State Fairgrounds would experience its latest spasm the weekend before Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s budget address.
The unreliable electrical infrastructure at the fairgrounds forced cancellation of events there last Saturday and Sunday and this week forced the Illinois Beef Expo — an event expected to attract 13,000 people — to make a last-minute move to the Interstate Center in Bloomington.
This is exactly the kind of project that a statewide capital plan can address. For the sake of the state — which benefits from year-round rentals of fairgrounds facilities — and Springfield’s tourism-dependent economy, there is great urgency in getting the fairgrounds’ power system problems resolved. Considering its age and economic importance, the fairgrounds probably would be a good candidate for a thorough infrastructure upgrade as insurance against similar problems in the future. That’s not to mention dozens of enhancements — like adding lights to the fairgrounds’ racetrack, to name just one — that could make it even more valuable.
It was encouraging, therefore, to hear the governor in his State of the State address Wednesday put so much emphasis on the need to pass a $25 billion plan devoted to public construction and maintenance projects.
“It has been nine years since Illinois has had a major plan to invest in our infrastructure. And there are millions of federal funds waiting to be matched by state dollars,” Blagojevich said. “If you do not act, that money will be left on the table and we will miss this summer’s construction season.”
Actually, it's billions in federal funds that will be left on the table. Last fall, Sen. Dick Durbin issued a stern warning to Illinois lawmakers: “If the state of Illinois does not enact a capital bill and provide the nonfederal match this year, as much as $6.1 billion in federal funding could be at risk.”
Which brings us back to the fairgrounds. If, as Blagojevich warned, we miss this summer construction season, there could be serious consequences for the Illinois State Fair (and, consequently, for Springfield’s economy), if the fairgrounds continues to rely on a problematic power system.
In 2005, an evening thunderstorm knocked out power to the state fair until late the following morning because crews had trouble getting to a downed power line in a remote location. To vendors with coolers full of perishable food, 13 hours without power in the August heat is an eternity.
The Illinois Horse Fair, scheduled to begin Feb. 29, is in limbo as organizers wait to hear whether the fairgrounds will have its power fixed in time. That event would have brought an estimated 10,000 people to the fairgrounds for its weekend run. Like those who would have been here this week for the Illinois Beef Expo, many visitors to the horse fair would stay in Springfield’s hotels, dined in its restaurants and, perhaps, taken in some of its historic sites.
It’s possible that fairgrounds’ electrical problem will be found to be something simple that can be repaired without re-doing its entire power system. But the recent spate of problems has been a reminder of the risks involved when the parts of an important economic engine get rusty.