Durbin: House-Senate Transportation Bill Compromise Protects Important Illinois Infrastructure Priorities
Senator protects expansion of RRIF loan program that would make more projects in Chicago – like Union Station upgrades – eligible for funding
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to authorize and fund transportation programs for the next 5 years. Durbin – who was a member of the Conference Committee tasked with finding a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the transportation bill – said that the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will provide the certainty that businesses and state governments, like Illinois, need to plan critical infrastructure projects and create good-paying jobs.
“This is a good bipartisan bill that reauthorizes our nation's transportation programs and gives state and local agencies certainty in planning for the next five years,” Durbin said. “As a member of the House-Senate Conference Committee, I was glad to be at the table working to protect Illinois’ important, job-creating infrastructure priorities.”
Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program
Durbin worked to secure improvements in the FAST Act to streamline the RRIF program to ensure that Transit Oriented (commercial) Development at the station can be used as collateral for future loans. Durbin fought for this provision in order to make this program more easily accessible to places like the City of Chicago which may now have easier access to financing. The RRIF program provides long-term, low-interest loans for railroad-related improvements. In spite of its potential to assist communities with large-scale projects like the redevelopment of Chicago’s Union Station, this program has been severely underutilized. Expediting and improving the RRIF process – and also making these much-needed loans more accessible – will greatly improve the flow of traffic and provide significant benefit to the local communities.
Additional programs in the FAST Act that will help maintain growth in investment for Illinois transportation projects, provide the certainty for smart planning, improve Illinois’ transportation network, and save or create thousands of jobs in Illinois include:
- Highway Programs – the FAST Act includes robust funding for the existing core highway formula program structure created by MAP-21 – including the Surface Transportation Program, Railway-Highway Crossings, and Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) programs – which is critical to ensuring that our nation’s roads are up to the task of moving people and goods safely and efficiently. Illinois lies at the heart of our busy national interstate system and its interstates see more than 106 million vehicle miles of travel annually.
- National Freight Program – the FAST Act establishes a first of its kind formula-based freight program to provide grants to all states to improve freight movement. This program is based on a provision Durbin advocated for in MAP-21, the previous transportation bill, to create a national policy to improve the performance of freight infrastructure. The program will also expand flexibility for both rural and urban areas to designate key freight corridors that match regional freight movement on roads. Illinois is home to the second largest rail network in the country, with nearly 10,000 miles of railroad track, and 7,737 public at-grade crossings.
- National and Regional Priority Infrastructure Projects – the FAST Act establishes a first of its kind competitive grant program – the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program– that would give states and communities the opportunity to seek additional funding for projects with regional and national significance, similar to the successful Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.
- Large, Aging Mass Transit Systems – the FAST Act funds the State of Good Repair program with additional increases to nearly $2.7B in the fifth year of the legislation. The program was originally created to help public transportation systems address the backlog of maintenance needs for America’s aging transit systems. In Illinois, the primary beneficiaries of the State of Good Repair program are urban transit rail systems, like the Chicago Transit Authority, which is one of the nation’s largest and oldest transit systems. During the Senate’s negotiations on a long-term transportation bill, Durbin fought aggressively for robust funding for transit programs, and worked to secure an additional $100 million per year in spending through the State of Good Repair program. He continued to advocate for increased levels in the Conference Committee.
- Bus and Bus Facilities – the FAST Act funds the Bus and Bus Facilities program at a significant increase from $427.8 million at current levels to $808.7 million in the fifth year of the legislation. This program is critical to downstate Illinois communities. Just last year, Bloomington-Normal’s Connect Transit received $2 million in funding to purchase up to eight replacement buses. Chicago has also benefited from this program, and has recently received $10.3 million to upgrade the current fleet of Chicago Transit Authority buses.
- Positive Train Control (PTC) System - $199 million in funding is included for PTC which is a communications-based system designed to prevent certain types of train accidents. PTC is an important safety feature, and additional funding will assist commuter lines in affording this technology.
- Tank Car Safety – the FAST Act requires a study on crude oil volatility to be performed jointly by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy. The bill requires new tank cars be equipped with a thermal jacket, aiding in a longer burn time, and sets standards for top fittings. It also requires the Department of Transportation to issue regulations regarding a comprehensive oil spill response plan which requires railroads to disclose information on their oil train shipments to state emergency response commissions, law enforcement, and first responders. The regulations will also determine confidentiality measures on the security-sensitive information. The bills also mandate a study and testing of ECP braking system by the National Academy of Sciences.
- Amtrak Reauthorization – the FAST Act reauthorizes Amtrak and the national passenger rail network. Amtrak operates 56 trains a day in Illinois, ridership in Illinois is up 18 percent over the past five years.
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