Lipinski Urges Stakeholders in CREATE Rail Program to Make Grade Separations a Top Priority as New National Freight Program Announced (February 29, 2016)

Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) has written a letter to stakeholders in the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program to strongly urge them to ensure that projects with public benefits are prioritized – especially highway-rail grade separations – as the program moves forward.  Lipinski’s letter came as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced on Friday a Notice of Funding Opportunity requesting applications for the new Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grants, as authorized by the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (NSFHP) program.  DOT also released grant guidelines for the freight program, including that freight rail projects must have public benefits.  The Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which Congressman Lipinski played a key role in shaping and passing last year, funds the NSFHP at $4.5 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2020, including $800 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.

 “As the senior Illinois Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and the state's only member from that committee on the House-Senate Conference Committee that finalized the recently passed FAST Act, I was pleased to ensure that this legislation included $4.5 billion in competitive grants over 5 years through the new Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program,” stated Rep. Lipinski in his letter to stakeholders.  “As a member of the T&I Committee's Special Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation in the last Congress, I made the creation of a program that could benefit CREATE a top priority, and with the FAST Act, I was able to get that accomplished.”

Lipinski successfully fought to ensure that grade separations and freight rail improvements stayed in as eligible projects in the legislation so that CREATE could effectively compete.  Additionally, he worked to make sure that grade separations were not subject to any funding caps given their importance to the public. The grant guidelines released by DOT on Friday specifically make railway-highway grade crossing projects eligible, and state that for freight rail projects “Federal funds can only support project elements that provide public benefits.”

“With the creation of this freight program, which itself constrains funding to projects that benefit both the general public and the efficient movement of freight, we are in a position to refocus our collective efforts on more effectively leveraging federal resources towards the next phase of CREATE, with a greater emphasis on projects with public benefits,” Lipinski said.  “Unfortunately, as CREATE has advanced over the past decade, many of the projects directly benefiting Chicago area residents and commuters have lagged behind.  As funding options become available, it is imperative to tend to all aspects of CREATE.

“However, capitalizing on this opportunity will require an all-in approach from all stakeholders, and it is critical that we work collaboratively to complete projects that benefit not only our individual interests, but those with a priority on direct and specific public benefits, such as highway-rail grade separations.  I am confident that CREATE projects will be competitive under this new freight program and that we can improve the quality of life in the region while finally bringing the Chicago area freight rail network into the 21st century.”

CREATE has been a significant beneficiary of federal funding.  It has been over a decade since the first significant infusion of federal funds for CREATE occurred.  Congressman Lipinski secured $100 million for CREATE through an earmark in the 2005 surface transportation reauthorization bill.  This kick-started a number of projects in CREATE and it started a shift in how policymakers conceptualized infrastructure investment, thus beginning the process of transitioning from a siloed approach to a multimodal perspective.  Since 2005, Lipinski has helped lead successful efforts to secure additional federal funding for CREATE, including a $133 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Actand a total of $110 million in TIGER grants in 2010 and 2012.

“As federal funding opportunities are announced, I look forward to working with CREATE stakeholders to develop a strategy to forge ahead on completing projects that benefit the general public and goods movement, and to submit competitive applications to the grant program that I helped put in place for this very purpose,” said Lipinski. 

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