On Monday, Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Robert Dold (R-IL), CTA 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 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.
"More than five years after I brought the House Transportation Committee to Chicago to hold the first hearing on a surface transportation reauthorization bill, the good news is that we finally have a bill coming to the House floor," said Rep. Lipinski, the most senior Chicago-area member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "The bad news is that the House Republican bill fails Chicagoland, Illinois, and our nation. Illinois roads take a big hit, losing at least $650 million. $450 million in transit funding is at risk for Metra, CTA, and Pace. The funding program for big, nationally significant projects like CREATE is eliminated. And the pay-fors include risky new drilling policies that will never pass the Senate. We need a bipartisan bill that will put people back to work, reduce traffic congestion, and create an efficient transportation system that spurs job growth."
"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."
Congress typically passes a major bill to invest in America's roads, bridges, railroads, and mass transit every four to six years. Yet at a time of high unemployment and inadequate job growth, it has failed to pass a long-term bill since the last one expired in September 2009, leaving transportation in the lurch.
"The CTA strongly opposes two provisions of the new transit bill that would significantly alter the way transit is funded," CTA President Forrest Claypool said. "The flaws in this bill don't just affect transit riders. They negatively affect every commuter in the Chicago region."
"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."
"I'm encouraged that Congress is finally moving forward with a multi-year transportation spending plan, and there are good reforms in what the House and Senate are discussing," said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doug Whitley. "However, the House version would put hundreds of millions of dollars for transit in real peril, while drastically reducing funding for Illinois highways. We must get serious about investing in our roads, bridges, transit and rail systems. Failure to do so will weaken businesses and the economy here in the transportation hub of America."
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.
"The GOP House bill is an abomination for mass transit in Chicago and across the nation," said Javier Perez, Jr., international vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. "It's clear House Republican leaders don't understand the needs of the thousands of working families who rely on safe, reliable, affordable public transportation each day."
"America's addiction to oil imposes mounting costs to our environment, economy, national security and health," said Environment Illinois Director Max Muller. "It doesn't have to be this way - we can invest in?clean, efficient travel choices such as public transit that will?move our nation away from oil and toward a brighter, healthier future. We need a smarter, cleaner transportation future, not this destructive proposal which reads like Big Oil's Wish List. The House of Representatives should overhaul this bill."
"The bill needs to address the movement of freight as a critical component of our national transportation system," said Will County Center for Economic Development President John Greuling. "It is key to our global competitiveness."