After frequently ranking dead last in the nation in year-over-year comparisons, construction employment in Illinois finally inched into positive territory in June. Employment only grew 0.1%, but it's been awhile since the state hasn't logged substantial losses.

The news was even better in month-to-month comparisons. Between May and June, the state added 5,400 jobs, a 3% increase.

The growth coincides with an unusually busy season for transportation projects in Illinois.

In March, the state unveiled $486 million in road and bridge projects for the coming months, one of the largest early-season construction programs in Illinois history. At the time, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn promised the program, comprised of some 200 projects, would create thousands of jobs.

That it has done. The state is funding the majority of the projects with its $31-billion capital program, which derives income from legalized video gambling, in addition to recent hikes in liquor taxes and driver's fees. .

Longer-term prospects for transportation construction also are looking good.

Last week, Quinn announced that work is set to begin on a four-year, $475-million makeover of Chicago's Circle Interchange, the nation's worst bottleneck for trucks and one of the worst for automobiles. IDOT estimates the project will create 5,000 construction jobs before it is finished.

Likewise, work is ramping up on multi-year tollway projects. In addition to a $2.2-billion project to rebuild and widen the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), a northwest-to-southeast artery extending from Wisconsin to Indiana state lines, the Illinois Tollway Authority is undertaking construction of the $3.4-billion Elgin O’Hare bypass, a project intended to improve access from Chicago suburbs to O'Hare International Airport.

The tollway also is continuing work on the new $719-million Tri-State Tollway (I-294)/I-57 interchange, a project intended to enhance mobility in Chicago's south suburbs.

In all, the Tollway is investing $922 million in capital projects this year alone, with funds deriving from substantial hikes in toll fees.

Since assuming office, Quinn has been a strong proponent of using transportation and infrastructure projects to jolt Illinois out of its doldrums. Now that this hugely unpopular politician is facing re-election, look for more projects – and jobs – to come on line.

It isn't pension reform, but it will do.