Durbin talks with local leaders about transportation priorities

By:  Doug Wilson
Quincy Herald-Whig

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told members of a transportation round-table discussion Tuesday in Quincy that the community is an example of how infrastructure investments lead to development.

Speaking in the John Wood Community College Board Room, Durbin said when he was elected to Congress in 1982 the Central Illinois Expressway, now designated I-72, was stalled on the east side of the Illinois River. Since that highway's completion in 1991, and other major route completions, the east side of Quincy has blossomed.

"Virtually none of this development was on the eastern edge of Quincy then. The city has become a commercial hub and investments that were made 30 years ago are paying off now," Durbin said.

Durbin met with 13 business and community leaders to discuss transportation issues, including highways, rivers, Amtrak and the Mid-America Intermodal Port. He also hinted that the financial needs are going to outweigh the nation's funding capabilities at times.

"We're looking at a new highway bill next year that will give the economy a shot in the arm. We've also got a crushing deficit," Durbin said.

The nation's financial problems mean dedicated funds will be important. Fuel taxes already are used for highways and mass transit. Existing taxes on fuels for water vessels also could be tapped for lock and dam upgrades.

Thomas A. Oakley of Quincy Newspapers Inc. and the Tri-State Development Summit briefed Durbin on the completion of the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway. C-KC signs and Route 110 signs have gone up on all along the routes designated part of the C-KC in Illinois. Oakley said Missouri officials are expected to install signs soon. Communities along the corridor also are looking at the creation of a C-KC Association to promote the route.

"The Macomb bypass is the only missing link" in the C-KC and needs to be constructed to avoid sending travelers or truckers through seven traffic signals, Oakley said.

In addition to the C-KC, the region benefits from the I-72/U.S. 36 corridor that goes from Indiana to Kansas and the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn. Oakley said those crossroads represent a huge development tool.

"There's a return on investment with highways," Oakley said.

National statistics indicate communities along a four-lane highway get $5 in development for each $1 in construction costs.

Mayor John Spring told Durbin about the $6 million state grant to create an intermodal transportation hub in Quincy's central business district. The station is envisioned as a home for the Amtrak depot, city bus service, Burlington-Trailways buses, local cab services and access to bike or hiking trails. Spring said there are several possible sites but the one favored at this time is a freight warehouse that was used by the now defunct CB & amp;Q Railroad near Second and Oak.

Dan Gibble of the Quincy Park District noted that a similar intermodal station in Champaign helped invigorate that city's downtown.

A $245,000 grant received with help from Durbin will extend greenway trails along Quincy's riverfront to link Clat Adams and other riverfront parks -- perhaps including the intermodal station, said City Planner Chuck Bevelheimer.

Jim Mentesti, president of the Great River Economic Development Foundation, said the proposed MidAmerica Intermodal Port Authority could be a huge jobs creator. The port is planned just south of Lock and Dam 21 at the south edge of Quincy. The dock and a conveyor system could be installed with help from a $22 million TIGER II grant that promoters hope to receive. The grant won't be announced until later this month. Mentesti said the port project was in the running but was did not make the final cut in an earlier round of TIGER -- Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery -- grants. Since then the application has been refined and the request has been cut back by more than 50 percent.

State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said completion of lock and dam upgrades that will double the size of lock chambers is an important issue for farmers. Five locks and dams on the Mississippi River and two on the Illinois River have authorization to build 1,200-foot locks, but there is no the funding.

Durbin said Congress is looking at tapping the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which captures taxes spent on fuels used by barges and other rivercraft, for river transportation funding.

Air service for Quincy also was discussed. Durbin said work on getting or maintaining air service in downstate Illinois has been a big part of his duties in Congress.

Cape Air flights between Quincy and St. Louis have been popular. Spring said the number of people departing from Quincy should be about 8,000 this year and might reach 10,000 next year.

Quincy Director of Administrative Services Gary Sparks said it could help the city's hydroelectric project if Congress would offer tax credits for more than one year at a time.

Durbin said that has been discussed in the Senate, but tax credits for lots of energy programs have been done on an annual basis.

"These developers keep asking us how they can plan when they don't know until December whether they're going to have the tax credit next year," Durbin said.