Durbin Meets with Transportation Officials to Discuss Illinois Priorities for Federal Transportation Bill
[CHICAGO, IL] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) met with key transportation leaders in Chicago today to discuss Illinois’ priorities and the stark differences between the House and Senate transportation bills. Durbin and U.S. Representative Jerry Costello were the only Illinoisans named to the joint Senate-House Conference Committee tasked with working out the differences between the Senate (S.1813) version and House (H.R.4348) version of a national transportation funding bill.
“As the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, Illinois depends on a robust federal investment in transportation projects to keep its economy moving,” said Durbin. “The bipartisan Senate bill that passed in March would invest $3.7 billion in Illinois highways and mass transit over the next two years and create or save nearly three million good-paying jobs across the country. This is an investment we can’t afford to lose. Over the next few weeks, I will work with members of the Conference Committee from both sides of the aisle to advance a bill that creates jobs and protects public transit, rail and highway investment in Illinois and across the country.”
The Senate passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan two-year bill by a vote of 74-22. While not perfect, the Senate-passed bill will maintain existing funding levels for Illinois transportation projects, improve Illinois’ transportation network and save or create an estimated 67,900 jobs in Illinois. Further, the Senate bill includes several provisions that are particularly helpful to Illinois, including:
- distributing highway formula funds in a way that reflects all funds Illinois has received in previous transportation bills, including earmarked funds for important projects like the Mississippi River Bridge in Southwestern Illinois, , the CREATE project and the reconstruction of Wacker Drive;
- retaining dedicated gas tax revenue for mass transit and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grants that help reduce gridlock on our roads and improve the environment;
- increase funding for mass transit in Illinois and allow CTA and Metra to compete for funds to improve their existing systems;
- passenger rail provisions that will improve Amtrak’s on-time-performance and help Illinois jump start new service to Rockford-Galena and the Quad Cities; and
- a new competitive grant program for projects of regional and national significance that will give our state and its communities the opportunity to seek additional funds for significant projects like the I-74 bridge, the Elgin-O’Hare Western Bypass, rail relocation in Springfield, and the proposed Illiana highway, among others.
Instead of taking up the bi-partisan Senate bill, the House of Representatives passed a three-month extension of the current Highway Bill. The Republican leadership in the House did not call its own bill (H.R. 7) to the floor, but the leaders’ public statements have indicated they would like to use that bill as their starting point in the conference committee negotiations.
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Regional Transit Administration, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, organized labor and House leaders all strongly opposed H.R. 7 because it would eliminate jobs and fails to adequately maintain and rebuild the transportation systems in Illinois. H.R. 7 contained several provisions that would have negatively impacted Illinois, including:
- cutting Illinois’ highway funds by hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the bill;
- eliminating dedicated gas tax revenues for mass transit and Congestion and Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grants;
- cutting operating funding for Amtrak by 25 percent;
- eliminating dedicated funds for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects; and
- eliminating any competitive grant programs like the TIGER grant program – taking away the chance for our state and local communities to compete for regionally and nationally significant projects
Durbin outlined several priorities he and Costello have agreed on, all of which were included in the bipartisan Senate version of the transportation bill, including:
- Projects of Regional and National Significance: a new competitive grant program for projects of regional and national significance that would give states and communities the opportunity to seek additional funding for significant projects. Projects that could potentially benefit from this grant program include, among others, the I-74 Corridor in the Quad Cities, the Elgin-O’Hare Western Bypass, rail relocation in Springfield and the proposed Illiana highway.
- Amtrak / Intercity Passenger Rail: The Senate bill includes provisions to improve Amtrak on-time-performance when freight trains interfere with their operations. The bill also includes several provisions improving passenger rail, including allowing states greater access to federal funds to jumpstart operating passenger rail. This provision could help the State of Illinois jumpstart new passenger rail service to Rockford-Galena and the Quad Cities.
- Fairness in Highway Formula Funding: Highway formula funds should be distributed in a way that reflects all funds Illinois has received in previous transportation bills, including earmarked funds for important projects like the Mississippi River Bridge in Southwestern Illinois, the CREATE project and the reconstruction of Wacker Drive.
- Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program: The CMAQ program helps major cities pay for transportation projects that improve air quality and mitigate congestion. The Chicagoland region receives $80 million per year from the CMAQ program which it uses to fund projects such as new CTA stations, cleaner Metra diesel engines, and road improvements throughout the suburbs.
- Large, Aging Mass Transit Systems: The Senate bill established a State of Good Repair program to assist public transportation systems in addressing the backlog of maintenance needs for America’s aging transit systems. The United States underfunds larger, aging transit agencies by $8.9 billion per year. Specifically, transit agencies in the Chicago area are facing a 10-year capital infrastructure backlog of more than $24 billion. These transit agencies work non-stop carrying millions of people each day, and their systems are getting older and in dire need of repair.
Earlier this week, Durbin and Costello sent a letter to other members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation asking them to submit their priorities in writing in order to ensure the entire delegation is working together to protect important, job-creating Illinois transportation projects.
“As Illinois Members of the upcoming House-Senate Conference Committee on the next transportation bill, we want to protect transportation issues important to Illinois in the final Conference Report. There are significant needs for our state’s roads, bridges, transit and rail systems, and we must be serious about securing a meaningful, sustainable transportation funding plan to promote our economic future,” wrote Durbin and Costello. “The Conferees are already beginning informal discussions about the contents of the final bill. It is incumbent upon us all to work together to ensure the final transportation bill reflects Illinois’ unique place as the transportation hub of the United States.”
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