Illinois got one-third of all federal money earmarked for interstate highway repairs in the last two years, a statistic that state officials attribute to Illinois' old roads and its ability to "work the system."

A three-mile stretch of Chicago's crumbling Dan Ryan Expressway accounted for $109 million of the $339.6 million in discretionary money allotted for interstate repairs nationwide in fiscal 1987 and 1988, the Federal Highway Administration said. That money is in addition to Illinois' annual share of federal dollars from the highway bill -- $370 million in fiscal 1988 -- and $13.2 million the state received from a special bridge-repair fund in fiscal 1988, the agency said.

"Illinois has the reputation of do-ing pretty well in receiving highway funds," said Doug Richardson, associate director of the state's Washington office. "But we have a lot of reasons to justify what we do."

High on the list, he said, is the need to repair some of the nation's oldest interstate roadways, like the 25-year-old Dan Ryan Expressway.

"We're a major crossroads, and we have more miles of interstate than almost any state," Richardson said. "It's old, and it needs work. So we've done very, very well."

But he also credited the Illinois Department of Transportation for "knowing how to work the system" to get as much money as possible.

For example, the state agency lobbied to get funds for the interstate-repair program, which was established in 1982 but had no appropriations until fiscal 1987. Then, state officials made sure its own projects would be among the first to qualify for the aid.

A $49 million grant for the Dan Ryan is the only discretionary award announced so far from the $174.4 million allocated for repairs in fiscal 1988, the Federal Highway Administration said.

Of $165.2 million awarded from the fund in the 1987 fiscal year, the agency's records showed Illinois received $60.2 million for the Dan Ryan.

Illinois Department of Transportation Director Gregory Baise said lobbying by Gov. James R. Thompson (R) and the political clout of key Illinois lawmakers -- including House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D), House Republican Leader Robert H. Michel, and Rep. William O. Lipinski (D), a member of the Public Works and Transportation Committee -- also helped bring home the money.