IL: Davis Proposes More Local Control of Transportation Dollars

May 15--NORMAL -- Using Uptown Station as a backdrop and an example of local innovation, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis unveiled a proposal on Wednesday which he said would give communities a stronger voice in how federal transportation dollars are spent.

Davis, a Republican representing Central and southwestern Illinois, is cosponsoring the Innovation in Surface Transportation Act with U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada. It would provide for competitive, in-state grants for transportation projects.

"Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure is key to turning our economy around and creating good-paying jobs, and local municipalities, planning commissions and transit agencies must be a part of that project," Davis said to a gathering that included Normal City Council members as well as town, economic development and Connect Transit officials.

Sharing the podium with Davis were Normal Mayor Chris Koos and Erin Evenhouse, Illinois outreach director for Transportation for America.

Koos said the revitalization of uptown Normal has been successful because of strong public investment.

Uptown Station, which opened nearly two years ago, was financed in part by a $22 million federal Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery grant.

Koos said the private sector wasn't willing to invest until government showed it was willing to invest. The $80 million in local, state and federal funds spent on uptown projects was matched by $165 million in private investments, Koos said, from large projects, such as the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, to small specialty shops.

Koos expressed support for Davis' legislation, calling it "truly innovative" and saying it would provide support for projects that could leverage public dollars to attract private investment.

Under the legislation, a portion of existing transportation funds would be set aside for an in-state competitive grant program, giving local communities more control over how money is spent.

The panel approving the grants would include representatives of jurisdictions with a population of 50,000 or fewer, those with a population between 50,000 and 1 million and those with a population of more than 1 million.

Davis, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said his bill would give preference to projects with a strong return on investment that encourage public-private partnerships.

Evenhouse said, "This legislation will move us forward by harnessing the power of local innovation."

Koos said Uptown Station and uptown's revitalization are proof of the innovation that's possible "when you put control in local government."

Copyright 2014 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

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