By Susan Sarkauskas
U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren and Judy Biggert spent time Friday advocating for including mass transit funding in any new federal surface transportation bill.
Both Republicans spoke during a news conference at the Aurora Transportation Center, as did RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello. The ATC is the last stop on Metra's Burlington Northern Santa Fe West line, and it will be for a long time unless somebody coughs up money for extending service to Oswego or Montgomery.
The current federal surface transportation act earmarked money to design an extension to Oswego.
That act expired in 2009, but has been extended nine times. The Senate has passed a two-year bill; the House this week passed a 90-day extension. A conference committee will now try to reconcile the bills.
Biggert and Hultgren both said Friday they wanted longer-term bills, but Biggert earlier this spring said the House Republican leadership should have called for a vote on the Senate's two-year plan.
"If we are going to do anything other than shovel-ready projects," we need a longer bill, Biggert said.
"Let's pass the real bill," and at least five years long, Hultgren said. Besides relieving traffic congestion, he said spending on transit projects could stimulate the U.S. economy. Hultgren sits on the House's transportation and infrastructure committee.
Hultgren reiterated his call for "restoring parity" in commuter tax breaks available for those who take mass transit vs. those who drive to work.
At one time, employees could have $240 a month withheld, pretax, to pay for either parking or their transit passes. But since the expiration of the 2009 federal stimulus bill, the break for commuters has reverted to $130 a month. Hultgren said, given road congestion, it doesn't make sense to do something that encourages people to drive rather than take mass transit to work.
Hultgren said he and Biggert have signed a letter requesting such to House leaders from both parties. "These are things that really help the suburban areas," Biggert said.
The conference committee work with the Senate may be difficult, Biggert said, because the House "lacks leverage," after its Republican majority criticized a five-year bill proposed in February by House Speaker John Boehner. It was criticized because it did not include spending for mass transit.
Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner introduced the legislators and Costello, and representatives from Metra also attended.
Biggert, of Hinsdale, is seeking election to the new 11th Congressional seat, which includes part of Aurora. She is opposed by former Congressman Bill Foster of Naperville.
Hultgren, of Winfield, faces Democrat Dennis Anderson of Gurnee in the fall for the 14th Congressional seat. The district also includes part of Aurora.