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Durbin, Dold, Biggert, Lipinski: CTA, RTA, Metra, PACE shortchanged in House transportation bill

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WASHINGTON--In rare bi-partisan agreement, some Illinois and Republicans and Democrats in agree that the pending House transportation bill shortchanges public transit in the Chicago area--that's the CTA, RTA, Metra, PACE and Amtrak.

Click below for remarks from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. Bob Dold and Judy Biggert, Illinois Republicans and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.)

below, from Sen. Dick Durbin....

[CHICAGO, IL] - 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.

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Below from Representatives Dold, Biggert and Lipinski.....


Chicago, IL - On Tuesday, United States Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL-10), Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL-3), CTA President Forrest Claypool, RTA Chairman John Gates, Jr., Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross, and Metra Chairman Larry Huggins discussed amendments that need to be made in order to improve the United States House of Representatives Transportation Bill.

"Transportation funding isn't a Republican or Democrat priority, it is an American priority," said Dold. "Today, we are united and have come together to advocate on behalf of common sense, bipartisan amendments that will improve the House transportation bill. Our economy relies on the ability to efficiently move goods, services and all the hardworking people who are traveling to and from work, we must ensure that we are improving our roads and funding mass transit. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the House to move these measures forward and thank Representatives Biggert and Lipinski for their hard work and efforts to protect mass transit."

"Suburban commuters and motorists, who pay millions in federal fuel taxes, deserve a transportation bill that is responsive to their needs," said Biggert. "Getting to work every morning- whether it's on Metra, the Eisenhower, or the Stevenson, causes enough headaches as it is. We need to work together toward a bipartisan agreement that provides steady, reliable funding so Illinois transportation managers can make the long-term investments that will keep people and commerce moving."

"As northeastern Illinois' most senior member of the House Transportation Committee, I have been fighting for more than five years to pass a robust surface transportation bill that is good for our region and good for the country," Lipinski said. "Improving our transportation system should be a nonpartisan effort. Fortunately, last week we were able to delay consideration of the House majority's partisan bill that would be harmful to our region; now we have time to fix it. In my work on the Transportation Committee and locally I have always worked to bring people together to solve problems; so I am very happy to stand together with two of my Republican colleagues to fight for changes that will make the transportation bill work for the people of northeastern Illinois. Restoring the 30-year bipartisan agreement to dedicate funding to mass transit, providing a fair tax benefit for transit riders, restoring the CTA'a eligibility for a critical bus program, and funding the Projects of National Significance program -- the source of $100 million I secured for CREATE in the last transportation bill -- are all critical changes I will continue to fight for and we stand united for."

"As the Chairman of the Board of the Regional Transportation Authority, I echo everyone's comments here regarding the House Transportation Bill," said Gates. "But I also want to add that 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, the House transportation bill is particularly concerning because it will make it much more expensive for the RTA to borrow money. So we need to amend this bill to ensure that there's a dedicated source of funding for mass transit. But we also need to ensure the amended bill provides for an increase the pre-tax transit benefit to ensure that transit riders receive the same pre-tax benefits as those individuals that drive to work and pay for parking. I look forward to working with Congressmen Dold and Lipinski and Congresswoman Biggert and the rest of the Illinois Congressional delegation to amend the House Bill and to pass a transportation bill that truly works for the people of Illinois."

Background Information:

Reps. Dold, Biggert, and Lipinski spoke about the importance of improving the House transportation bill by supporting amendments that would include projects of national significance, guarantee funding streams for public transportation, and Representative Hultgren's amendment to restore transit benefits.

Hultgren-Lipinski-Biggert-Dold Amendment Number 21 - Would restore parity between transit and parking pre-tax benefits and account for inflation.

Nadler-Lipinski-Dold Amendment Number 27 - Would restore the dedicated guaranteed funding stream for public transportation programs. Would eliminate the Alternative Transportation Account, restore the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund and its 2.86 cent funding mechanism, and redirect the $40 billion appropriation in HR 7 to the Highway Trust Fund to ensure there is enough funding for both highways and transit. It would also move CMAQ, Ferries, Puerto Rico and Territorial Highways, and Research back into the Highway Trust Fund consistent with current law.

Nadler-Lipinski Amendment Number 28 - Would restore the Projects of National and Regional Significance program as a competitive merit-based grant program as it was originally established in SAFETEA-LU, which has been eliminated in HR 7.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 21, 2012 12:47 PM.

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