Federal transportation bill drawing Illinois opposition

February 13, 2012 4:45:06 PM PST
A Republican-led federal transportation bill that could be voted on later this week is drawing opposition from both sides of the political aisle in Illinois because of threatened cuts in funding for Metra, the CTA, Pace and Illinois road projects.

Washington lawmakers in both the House and Senate are expected to vote this week on the new bill that would authorize government spending for highways and mass transit for most of the rest of this decade.

Local opposition to the house version has engendered some rare bi-partisanship.

In their election campaigns just two years ago Democrat Dan Lipinski and Republican Robert Dold campaigned to cut government spending.

Now they're fighting the bill favored by House Republican leaders that would cut federal transportation dollars to the Chicago region.

"The bill slashes spending for highways," Lipinski said. "It undermines public transit."

"Estimates well over $650 million of cuts to the region are not good for jobs, they're not good for mass transit, they're not good for rail," said Dold.

The Transportation Reauthorization Act is up for a vote in the house this week. Opponents say that among its provisions, for the next six years it would cut the region's share of funding for roads and highways by $650 million, cut Amtrak's subsidy by 25 percent and no longer allow the use of federal gasoline tax revenues for mass transit. CTA president Forrest Claypool cannot understand why.

"Every single day at rush hour, our Blue Line train, for example, carries 1,000 people who otherwise would be in cars or finding their way on roads that would be congested," Claypool said.

House Republicans warn that without changes the Federal Highway Fund could go broke in two years.

"The bill sets a new responsible course to provide steady funding over the next five years while ensuring gas tax revenue paid by Illinoisans is going toward their infrastructure needs," said Hinsdale's Peter Roskam, a house deputy whip.

Dold has broken with Roskam and other House Republican leaders,rejecting the proposed cuts to transportation.

"There's no question we've got to tighten our belts," Dold said. "But I still think there's opportunities to tighten our belts and fund our priorities of which transportation has to be one."

If the Republican majority in the House is able to pass the bill including the cuts, its provisions are unlikely to pass in the democratic majority senate.


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