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Conference Committee Passes Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill; Rep. Lipinski Secures Critical Language That Benefits District and Nation (December 1, 2015)

Today, Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) joined the other members of the House-Senate Conference Committee to announce that they have completed negotiations on the first long-term federal road and transit funding bill in 10 years.  As the only House Transportation Committee member from Illinois appointed to work out the compromise, Lipinski helped make sure the final bill increases funding for local road and transit projects and addresses regional transportation priorities that will ease congestion and increase safety.  The bill, known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, will be considered on the House floor on Thursday. 

“The fact that we were able to reach agreement on a road and transit funding bill is great news for the nation, especially people that live and work in northeastern Illinois,” said Rep. Lipinski.  “I fought hard in the Transportation Committee, on the House floor, and in the conference negotiations, and was able to make this bill better at each step.  Illinois will receive more money to ease congestion on our roads, including funding to specifically fix problems related to the region’s position as the nation’s freight transportation hub.  This includes two new freight programs that will help fund the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) rail modernization plan, specifically encompassing money to build underpasses for roads that cross rail lines.  Local transit riders will see improvements from the increased funding for Metra, CTA, and Pace.  While this bill will not solve all of our congestion problems, it is a good step forward and will help improve quality of life in the region.”

The FAST Act provides $281 billion for roads and transit over five years, with funding increasing 5.1% in the first year and 2% in subsequent years.  Illinois will receive approximately $7.5 billion in guaranteed funding for roads; this averages out to $1.51 billion per year, up from $1.37 billion in 2015.  The bill establishes two new programs to help regions – such as northeastern Illinois – that suffer from congestion caused by freight moving on trucks and trains.  One program provides $11 billion in formula funds and the other provides $5 billion for grants to projects such as grade separations to eliminate blocked roads at rail crossings.  Illinois will also receive nearly $3 billion in transit support, with the opportunity for more funding through competitive grant programs.

The FAST Act includes $199 million in support for commuter rail agencies, such as Metra, to install and test Positive Train Control safety technology.  The bill also includes the first Amtrak reauthorization in seven years, providing $8 billion over five years compared to $5.8 billion in four years in the original House bill.  Congressman Lipinski was also able to remove from the final bill restrictions on the use of certain federal funds for transit projects; such limitations could have made the Core Capacity and New Starts components of the Red and Purple Line Modernization Projects infeasible without severely restricting CTA spending on other lines and routes.  Funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program, which supports investment in infrastructure for bicycling, walking, and other active transportation means, was also maintained despite efforts to reduce or eliminate the program.

In addition, Rep. Lipinski was able to include provisions in the bill that increase the safety of rail cars carrying oil and other hazardous materials, support the deployment of zero-emission buses, and help boost American manufacturing jobs by improving Buy American laws.  In his role as the top Democrat on the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, he was also able to add language to the research portion of the bill to speed the development and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles, which will improve safety, save fuel, and reduce congestion on our roads.