Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Durbin: Increase rail investment under new Transportation Bill

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to increase funding for job creating Illinois rail and multimodal priorities, including rail line relocation grants, Amtrak and the TIGER grant program, in its bill to reauthorize the Surface Transportation Act. Durbin also urged the Committee to reject the proposals in the House Transportation bill that would eliminate or dramatically reduce funding for programs that are essential to creating jobs in downstate Illinois communities.

"Illinois, as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, is in dire need of increased investment to upgrade our aging transportation network. The next reauthorization can make a significant dent in our infrastructure deficit if we increase investments in transportation," Durbin wrote. "Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is pursuing a transportation bill that will cut passenger rail programs. These policies will make it harder for our nation to achieve a truly multimodal transportation network and I urge you to reject all House attempts to cut passenger, freight and multimodal programs."

In today's letter, Durbin outlined several rail and transit priorities for Illinois including three that are being threatened with elimination or dramatic cuts under the transportation bill recently released by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He has requested the Senate Commerce Committee consider increasing funding for the following Illinois priorities:

• Rail line relocation grants: The previous Surface Transportation bill established a capital grant program to provide financial assistance for local rail line relocation and improvement projects. The rail line relocation program is one of the only grant programs available for communities to mitigate the adverse effects of rail traffic on safety, traffic flow and community quality of life. This program is important to communities in Illinois, like Springfield and Galesburg, which are undertaking rail consolidation and mitigation projects. The House Transportation Committee has proposed eliminating this grant program.

• High-speed rail and intercity passenger rail: The investments made in passenger rail included in the Recovery Act have jumpstarted the rebuilding of our aging passenger rail network. This next reauthorization should strengthen and expand the nation's intercity passenger rail network. The best way to improve our passenger rail network is to provide high-speed and intercity passenger rail with a dedicated revenue stream similar to those available to highways, mass transit and aviation. A multi-year commitment of dedicated public investment will spur private investment and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. The House Transportation Committee has proposed a 25 percent reduction in funding for Amtrak operating expenses.

• TIGER grant program: The TIGER grant program allows local communities to apply directly to the Department of Transportation for funding of nationally significant transportation projects. This new program is especially helpful to communities engaged in multimodal projects that improve connections to different transportation networks. Several projects in Illinois have been funded under the incredibly popular TIGER grant program including a multimodal transportation center in Normal, the Warehouse District in Peoria, the CREATE project in Chicago and the Tri-City Port in Madison County. The House Transportation Committee has proposed eliminating competitive grant programs like the TIGER program and instead distributes most funding to the states via formula. This takes away opportunities for local communities to access funding for innovative, economic boosting projects.

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