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House Dems seek billions for CTA, Union Station, roads (June 3, 2020)

Greg Hinz
June 3, 2020

Illinois road builders and Chicago transit operators are big winners in a new multiyear federal surface transportation bill that U.S. House Democrats are unveiling today. So is outmoded Union Station.

But the plan won’t get far unless at least a few Republicans join in. Democrats are hoping to achieve that by selling the bill as a COVID-19 economic stimulus measure, something President Donald Trump has talked about.

According to U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, the ranking Illinois Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, the state and its transportation agencies would get a combined $10.2 billion in regular annual funds for five years, a 35 percent hike from the last five-year bill.

The increase for road programs matches that overall hike: 35 percent. But the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and other agencies would get a 57 percent hike. Illinois roads would get $10.25 billion over five years, compared with $7.53 billion in the last bill. Transit would get $4.7 billion, up from $2.99 billion.

Metra also would gain by making Amtrak-owned stations with commuter rail operations, like Union Station, eligible for an expanded $1.4 billion annual pot of money for station improvements. To underline the point, Lipinski said the language of the bill makes the top 25 stations with dual Amtrak and commuter operations a priority for receiving the money.

Union Station is very outdated and serves many more passengers than it was designed for, but Amtrak has not been able to secure the needed funds yet, despite some recent development of nearby property it owns.

To get the money, Lipinski said he had to back off his demand that Amtrak turn over operations at Union Station to Metra. “There was pushback.” He said he’s working on other ways to make the national rail service more accommodating to the needs of local commuters.

Another local winner in the bill is the continuing Create program to build bridges and tunnels so street traffic is not held up every time a train comes by. Lipinski said the bill would give Illinois $2.5 billion over five years to pay for such grade separations and penalize railroads that block intersections for more than 10 minutes.

Lipinski conceded there is “no program to pay for” the bill. Instead, it would be considered economic stimulus, like other measures Congress has passed during the pandemic.

Lipinski said the bill will be formally passed by committee—“marked up,” in Washington lingo—on June 17 with a floor vote around July 1.

There’s lots of other stuff in the bill, from limiting high-occupancy lanes to low-emission vehicles, a relatively strong buy-America clause and more money for Amtrak. Take a look for yourself:

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