WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 24, 2012. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that he has been named by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) 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 last month 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.”
Durbin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, said he will work to protect important Illinois priorities from the Senate bill including the following:
- Large, Aging Mass Transit Systems: The Senate bill establishes a State of Good Repair program to assist public transportation systems in addressing the backlog of maintenance needs for America’s aging transit systems. A recent study requested by Durbin found 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.
- Renewed Starts: The Senate bill allows for existing transit systems to compete for “New Starts” funding. Currently only extensions or new transit lines can compete for Federal Transit Administration “New Starts” funding. The Senate bill establishes a new category for capital investment projects by authorizing core capacity projects, like the planned rebuilding of the CTA Red and Purple Lines.
- Mass Transit Commuter Benefit Parity: The Senate bill will increase the amount of money commuters can set-aside before taxes for mass transit each month. Commuters driving to work can currently set-aside $240/month for parking costs. Public transportation users can only set aside only $125/month for transit costs. The Recovery Act increased both benefits to the same level, but the higher transit benefit expired January 1st. The bill allows for commuters to set-aside up to $240/month for public transportation costs before tax through the end of this year.
- Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program: The Senate bill retains the CMAQ program and provides over $3.3 billion per year in funding for the 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.
- Projects of Regional and National Significance: The Senate bill includes a competitive grant program modeled off the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. This new grant program will allow 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 similar 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.
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 pay for new passenger rail service to Rockford and the Quad Cities. The bill also institutes a standardized rail planning program at the state and federal level. The State of Illinois is ahead of many states in creating a national rail plan that will determine the future use of freight and passenger rail in the state for years to come. The Senate bill will help other states do the same.