Drive for Federal Freight Rail Cash Draws Bipartisan Backing Here
In an unusual display of local bipartisan unity, 13 of Illinois' 18 U.S. House members have signed a letter urging that any new federal transportation bill include guaranteed funding to decongest the Chicago area's crowded freight rail network.
The letter, sent to the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, comes at a critical time, as Congress shows signs of both finally producing a long-term funding bill and of remaining stuck in a stalemate that's persisted now for most of a decade.
The letter (read it below) was signed by Democrats Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Cheri Bustos, Luis Gutierrez, Jan Schakowsky, Bill Foster, Danny Davis, Robin Kelly, Bobby Rush and Tammy Duckworth, and Republicans Robert Dold, Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger. The only Chicago-area reps not to sign were Peter Roskam, who never signs such leadership letters, and Randy Hultgren, the most conservative member of the local delegation.
The letter terms freight "the lifeblood of the American economy. Businesses rely on complex supply chains to receive inputs and ship outputs to customers."
But key rail hubs including Chicago received inadequate funding in prior bills, the letter says. To alleviate that, not only is a dedicated funding stream needed, but spending should focus on metropolitan areas, include access to multi-modal facilities and allow for a competitive grant program for "complex mega-projects that have significant national and regional economic and quality of life benefits."
That appears to be a reference to this area's Create program, which has been only partially funded.
Congress for years has wrestled with the fact that funding for surface transportation needs is well short of meeting demand, with revenue from the key gasoline tax in particular coming up short.
Democrats are all for spending more, but Republicans are very divided. In the latest twist,some conservative House Republicans now oppose any bill, apparently wanting to turn over transportation spending to the states. That means that if committee Chairman Bill Shuster is to pass a bill, he'll need Democratic buy-in. That could pay off, or also blow up any bill.
Without some action, current spending authority—and money—will run out later this year.
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