In Illinois, we are all about building bridges.

Our state is bordered by rivers. We are crisscrossed by railroads. There are enough miles of road that are under state and local jurisdiction to circle the globe almost six times.

In other words, there are a lot of things we need to cross over in our daily travels. To be exact, there are 26,770 bridges in Illinois – the third-most of any state.

At the Illinois Department of Transportation, bridges are among our most expensive, complicated projects. Because of that, we are becoming more focused than ever on viewing bridges and other key pieces of infrastructure as resources we must do our utmost to preserve and protect – the foundation that makes Illinois the transportation hub of North America.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of cutting the ribbon on the new U.S. 52-Illinois 64 bridge in Savanna, a $80.6 million project that replaced a structure that first opened in 1932 as a private toll bridge.

Up and down the state there are other vital bridge projects that are coming to a close or gearing up.

• We broke ground this summer on a new Interstate 74 bridge over the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities, the largest IDOT project outside of the Chicago area. With Iowa as our partners, we are working on an expedited schedule to have the $1.2 billion project finished in less than four years.

• Farther south, on the Illinois River, we are in the final planning stages to rebuild the 70-year-old eastbound McClugage Bridge in Peoria. The estimated $210 million project is expected to start in a couple years.

• This spring, we started construction on a new Illinois 178 bridge just north of Starved Rock State Park in Utica, one of the state’s top tourist attractions. The Illinois 89 bridge over the Illinois River near Spring Valley also is under construction, with a 2018 completion date.

• The replacement for the Illinois 104 bridge over the Illinois River in Meredosia will be finished in 2018.

• In Chicago, the bridges in the Interstate 55 and Lake Shore Drive interchange that is so vital to the economic success of Illinois and the Midwest will be open to traffic in December.

• And one we are particularly excited about is the new Houbolt Road bridge in Joliet, a joint effort between the state, county and city governments and local industry. This project leverages a ten-to-one return on the state’s financial commitment to address a serious congestion problem in the region – a win-win for all involved.

Under the leadership of Gov. Bruce Rauner, for the first time ever at IDOT we are developing a list of improvements on our major bridges in priority order. At the same time, we are creating a separate list of needs for the bridges that cross over major rivers, including the border bridges we share with Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana. All of these efforts are part of a larger mission to commit to a system of asset management that helps guide IDOT’s decisions, with your input, about where to best invest the public’s resources.

An old saying at IDOT is you don’t build an addition when the roof is leaking. We know infrastructure is what gives Illinois its competitive edge. Making proactive and strategic investments in our infrastructure extends the life of our assets – our highways, transit systems, airports, waterways, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Bridges, such as the one that just opened in Savanna, help us maintain a quality of life and get us where we need to go safely each and every day.

One bridge can connect communities, get you to a job and keep you and your family safe.

That’s something worth taking care of and preserving.

Blanekenhorn is Illinois secretary of Transportation. 

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