Senate alternative has bipartisan support, protects funding source that is helping Peoria update public transit bus fleet
PEORIA, IL–(ENEWSPF)–February 24, 2012. After House Republicans reportedly scrapped their second attempt to pass a partisan transportation funding bill yesterday in the face of overwhelming bipartisan opposition, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin today called on Republican leaders to consider a bipartisan, two-year compromise—like the Senate transportation bill that passed a major procedural hurdle earlier this month by a vote of 85-11. Unless House Republicans reverse course and work in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation along the lines of the Senate bill, or pass the Senate bill when it comes to the House for consideration, critical federal funding for major projects and transportation agencies throughout Illinois—including Peoria’s CityLink and projects like the Warehouse District redevelopment—remain at serious risk.
“The House Republican transportation bill would have hurt the Illinois economy. Whether you are talking about Peoria’s CityLink or Springfield Mass Transit, transit agencies in Illinois would be hard pressed to operate public transportation without critically important federal funding. For thirty years, public transportation agencies have relied on these funds to provide critical services to communities across the country. Illinoisans should demand that their Members of Congress fight to ensure CityLink and other agencies can continue providing service,” Durbin said.
The House has proposed ending 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—instead using one-time transfer of $40 billion in funds from a change in federal employee retirement plans. Upon exhausting the transfer, mass transit would be subject to an uncertain annual appropriations process. The Senate proposal would maintain the current source of mass transit funding that public transportation agencies nationwide rely on.
CityLink was the first transit system in the country to run ethanol-fueled buses in its fleet, and it counts on roughly $3 million in federal funds each year to maintain a modern, industry-leading fleet. In recent years, the agency has received more than $16 million in federal mass transit funding to improve its facilities and purchase new vehicles and equipment. Two projects currently underway, a $27 million maintenance facility and a $5.5 million northwest transit center, require additional federal support to be completed. The CityLink system provided more than 3 million rides to Peoria area residents and visitors in fiscal year 2009 and has helped reduce the region’s traffic congestion.
“Peoria has a vision for its future that includes a new CityLink transit center and a new maintenance facility,” said Durbin. “Both job-creating facilities would require federal investment to become a reality. But, instead of investing in our infrastructure, the House Republican leadership chose to threaten critical funding sources. At a time when our mass transit is growing, the House wants to threaten its future. That’s not a vision for the future. That’s betting on failure. House Republicans should get on board with the Senate bipartisan bill that creates jobs and protects public transportation and infrastructure.”
In October, 2010, Durbin joined Mayor Jim Ardis in announcing that Peoria had won a $10 million federal grant to design and build a complete street network that is safe, walkable and attractive in the Warehouse District. The grant was a key component of the city’s plan for revitalizing the Warehouse District and will help create jobs and promote economic development. The funding was awarded though the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) TIGER grant program—a program that, along with all competitive grant programs, House Republicans have slated for elimination. Without programs like TIGER, communities and states would have a harder time financing major projects and improving local economies. The bipartisan Senate alternative includes a competitive grant program modeled on the successful TIGER program.
“The $10 million competitive grant to Peoria helped spur redevelopment of the Warehouse District and created good-paying jobs,” said Durbin. “House leaders tried to eliminate any chance for more communities to compete for similar grants—but the Warehouse District is a premier example of why Congress should continue these programs.”
The House has repeatedly proposed deep cuts to Amtrak’s operating budget—as much as $308 million over two years, a 25 percent reduction—at a time when ridership is reaching record levels. The U.S. DOT recently awarded $160,000 to help fund a study on establishing passenger rail service from Bloomington-Normal to Peoria, but with such deep cuts to Amtrak, it is unlikely that the service corridor could be realized. Amtrak trains are a major asset for business and employment in Illinois, moving 110,000 commuters on 300 trains each day—a total of 33 million passengers last year.
“Illinois is one of the most important hubs in the nation’s passenger rail network,” Durbin said. “We need to maintain and grow passenger rail service—not dismantle it. Deep cuts will degrade our world-class transportation system and cost our state good paying jobs. People are clearly demanding more train service. The House should look to the Senate for a bipartisan path forward for the nation.”