Monday, February 13, 2012

Illinois officials come out against transportation bill

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On Monday, Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Robert Dold (R-IL), Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool, Metra Executive Director/CEO Alex Clifford, RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello, Illinois Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Doug Whitley and other transportation, business, labor and environmental leaders called on House Republican leaders to work with them to fix the transportation reauthorization bill before it comes up for a vote in the House this week.

The representatives say the current House Republican bill will hurt Illinois, and Chicagoland especially, by slashing funding for state roads and highways by about $650 million, putting $450 million for local public transportation at risk by taking motor-fuel tax money away from mass transit, failing to provide funding for projects of national and regional significance, such as the CREATE rail modernization project, and making the CTA ineligible for an important program that last year alone provided it with $36 million for new buses and equipment. All this is being done at a time when delays for drivers in the Chicago region have increased by nearly a third in little more than a decade, and now cost them $1,568 each on average, more than anywhere else in the country.

"A strong transportation and infrastructure bill is key to moving our economy forward," Rep. Dold said. "I have several concerns with the transportation bill as it stands today. While there are many bipartisan and positive ideas included, such as long-term infrastructure spending, reforms to speed up the completion time for major projects and a provision to strengthen harbors like Waukegan Harbor, I am concerned with drilling in ANWR, the cuts to mass transit funding and the disproportionate cuts to the State of Illinois. I am optimistic that we can find common ground and strengthen this bill so that we can move forward a long-term transportation bill that helps strengthen our economy."

"As the head of an agency that is responsible for fiscal and budget oversight, as well as raising money to pay for public transit projects in Northeastern Illinois, I am very concerned that the House bill will make it much more expensive for the RTA to borrow money," RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello said. "If the dedicated funding stream transit agencies rely on is taken away, Moody's stated that it might be forced to downgrade the credit ratings of a number of transit agencies. If this occurs, it will cost transit agencies hundreds of millions of dollars a year in interest."

Under a bipartisan agreement that dates back 30 years to President Reagan, a portion of motor fuel taxes has been dedicated to pay for investments in public transportation. But the House Republican bill would end that guaranteed revenue source. As a result, mass transit could suffer significant cuts, badly hurting train and bus riders in Illinois.

The bill also eliminates funding for the Projects of National and Regional Significance program, which especially impacts the Chicago region because there are numerous major projects in need of funding here in America's transportation hub. In the last reauthorization bill, Rep. Lipinski was able to secure $100 million for the ongoing CREATE rail modernization project, which is critical for local jobs, through this program.

A provision in the bill that Rep. Lipinski attempted to remove in committee would force the CTA to choose between losing $36 million a year for buses and equipment or splitting into two separate agencies, one for rail and one for bus, which would raise costs for taxpayers through increased administrative costs. In addition, funding for Amtrak would be cut by 25 percent under the bill.

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