In a letter to all members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL) today committed to working to protect important Illinois priorities in the upcoming House-Senate Conference Committee on the next transportation bill. They also asked the members 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."
While asking input from other members, Durbin and Costello outlined several of their shared priorities, all of which were included in the bipartisan Senate version of the transportation bill which would maintain existing funding levels for Illinois transportation projects, improve Illinois' transportation network and save or create an estimated 67,900 jobs in Illinois. Their priorities include protecting the following programs:
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.
Durbin and Costello sent letters to the following members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation: Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Robert Dold (R-IL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Tim Johnson (R-IL), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Don Manzullo (R-IL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Bobby Schilling (R-IL) Aaron Schock (R-IL), John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL).