Durbin: House Republicans Should Go Back to Drawing Board on Transportation Bill

Senate alternative has bipartisan support and would protect Chicago transit funding source

CHICAGO, IL–(ENEWSPF)–February 21, 2012. The House Republicans should go back to the drawing board rather than piece together a partisan transportation bill that has little chance of passing, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said today.  Federal funding for transportation agencies throughout Illinois—including the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra—is at serious risk under the House Republican proposal. The Senate’s transportation funding bill—an alternative proposal which enjoys bipartisan support—passed a major procedural hurdle earlier this month by a vote of 85-11.

The House legislation would end the practice of funding mass transit with a portion of the revenue collected through federal gasoline taxes—a bipartisan plan agreed to 30 years ago—and replace it with a one-time transfer of $40 billion in funds from a change in federal employee retirement plans.  However, the House used $15 billion of that funding in the payroll tax credit/unemployment benefits extension package and has yet to articulate how they will make up the difference for the mass transit fund.  Once the transfer runs out, mass transit will be subject to an uncertain annual appropriations process.

“After realizing the devastating impact this bill would have on mass transit and rail, Members of Congress have been walking away from the House Republican proposal in droves,” said Durbin.  “Instead of investing in the infrastructure we need to build our economy and create jobs, the House transportation bill destroys funding and creates financial uncertainty.  At a time when passenger rail is growing, this bill starts shutting it down. That’s no vision for the future. That’s betting on failure.  While we debate our bipartisan bill in the Senate next week, it’s time for the House Republicans to go back to the drawing board.”

Approximately 25 percent of residents in the Chicagoland area rely on mass transit for daily transportation needs. In 2010, passengers on CTA, Pace, and Metra saved approximately $2 billion in time and fuel by using public transit systems.

The House transportation bill limits funding for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, which 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.

By contrast, the Senate legislation wouldn’t short-change mass transit systems.  It would keep current funding levels for the next two years and it would protect the secure, dedicated source of revenues for funding transit programs.

“The House transportation spending proposal is devastating to Illinois. Whether you are talking about the Chicago Transit Authority or the Springfield Mass Transit District, transit agencies in Illinois would be hard pressed to operate public transportation without critically important federal funding. For thirty years, public transportation agencies have been able to use these funds to improve services to communities across the country. This bill ends that agreement, ending all funding to mass transit when it expires in five years,” Durbin said.

The legislation would also cut funding for Amtrak totaling $308 million over two years—a 25 percent reduction. Amtrak and Metra trains are a major asset for business and employment in Chicago, moving 110,000 commuters on 300 trains to and from Union Station each day—a total of 33 million passengers last year. 

“Chicago is one of the most important hubs in the nation’s passenger rail network and Union Station is the anchor of that network,” Durbin said.  “We need to maintain and grow passenger rail service—not dismantle it. These cuts will degrade our world-class transportation system and cost the Chicago area good paying jobs. People are clearly demanding more train service, yet the House bill would limit the service we already have.”

Chicago Union Station is the fourth busiest station in the Amtrak system, serving 3.4 million passengers each year. Earlier this year, Amtrak announced the railroad reached a milestone by carrying over 30 million passengers in one fiscal year. This is the highest ridership total since Amtrak began operations in 1971.  In fact, Amtrak has set ridership records for every fiscal year since 2002 with the exception of 2009.

Source: durbin.senate.gov