WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was back with his Illinois gang Wednesday. "Our favorite transportation secretary," said Sen. Dick Durbin.
LaHood, the former Republican congressman from Peoria, headlined a lunch with the Illinois congressional delegation hosted by Durbin.
About $938 million in stimulus spending for Illinois transportation projects was on the plate, along with an assortment of Cosi flat- breads, salad, chips, cola, coffee and cookies.
Afterward, a rare delegation news conference was served up. All the members at the lunch were invited. Here's the news:
• • Yes, LaHood's successor, 27-year-old cutie Rep. Aaron Schock, voted the "Hottest Freshman of the 111th Congress" by Huffington Post readers, stuck around for the media, though he did not say anything.
• • No, Sen. Roland Burris did not. Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor said Burris moved on to a Congressional Black Caucus lunch.
Burris -- the subject of a Sangamon County probe into whether he perjured himself before the Blagojevich impeachment panel and a U.S. Senate ethics panel -- muzzled himself a while back and declared he was no longer talking to the press.
• • LaHood said Illinois was well ahead of other states in getting swift federal approvals to spend the stimulus windfall, intended to create and save jobs. That's important because it means Illinois firms are ahead of the pack -- presumably -- in landing state construction business, good for the entire region.
• LaHood, known for his bipartisanship, handed quite a compliment to Democrat Gov. Quinn: "Illinois is making very good progress, and it is because of the leadership of Gov. Ryan and [Illinois] Transportation Secretary [Gary] Hannig and. . . ." LaHood paused a moment realizing his reference to the former governor. "Sorry about that, Gov. Quinn and Secretary Hannig. In any event, Illinois is doing well."
• • The controversial "Prairie Parkway" is off the table for now, a victory for west suburban anti-sprawl forces.
In 2005, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert stuffed a $207 million earmark into a federal highway bill to help pay for the road, estimated to cost $1 billion. The 37-mile highway would roll through Kane and Kendall Counties, linking I-80 and I-88.
Rep. Bill Foster, the Democrat who replaced Hastert, said there is "a near consensus in the area" that "the first priority for money being spent on roads is probably not in that corridor but rather beefing up the existing north-south corridors and so on."
Foster wants to try to "reprogram" the money for other projects. Congress would have to approve.