Difficult economic times and partisan polarization in Washington,has made funding for critical Illinois transportation projects a battle ground for Senator Dick Durban (D-IL). Funding for Illinois Amtrak service has been resuscitated after a proposed sixty percent cut appeared likely. Durbin views transportation funding as a critical component of renewed economic growth for Illinois.
Yesterday Senator Durbin issued the following statement after a Conference Committee between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives released a final appropriations bill that includes funding for transportation projects in Illinois and the nation. “While I am disappointed that the final bill did not include funding specifically for high speed rail, I am confident that our commitment will continue through the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGER) Program.” The TIGER Program continues to be funded. Durbin further noted, “I will work to see that high rail speed rail projects in Illinois are made eligible for funding through this program.”
Durbin faced a difficult battle to save Illinois Amtrak funding as the House version of the bill, according to Durbin’s office, would have “cut Amtrak’s operating funding by 60%, prohibited Amtrak from using any federal funds to help states pay for state supported routes, and provided no money for high speed and intercity rail projects. According to Durbin, the House proposal would have dismantled Amtrak service in Illinois and stunted high-speed rail growth in spite of record ridership numbers.”
A 60 percent cut in Amtrak’s operating budget would have forced the railroad to lay off many of the more than 1,800 Illinois resident the service employs. Furthermore, the economic impact of the measure would have had a serious impact on Illinois manufacturing. The economic impact would have been felt by the 110 train equipment manufactures and contractors doing business with Amtrak. It would have been felt by hotels, businesses, restaurants, and other service providers that would have lost millions of customers each year. (Ellen Cannon, lodeplus.com ,”Durbin and Costello Denounce House Amtrak Bill)
Had Amtrak not been funded the results would have negatively impacted Midwest transportation. According to Senator Durbin’s office, “it would have eliminated Amtrak service from Chicago to Carbondale, Milwaukee and Quincy…” New Amtrak service routes under development from the Quad Cities to Rockford would have also been eliminated.”(www.durbin.senate.gov10/27/11)
Senator Durbin is a member of the Senate Transportation Appropriation Subcommittee. Federal funding of transportation systems and infrastructure is viewed by Durbin as a key element to sustained economic investment in Illinois, job creation, and improved public health. For every $1 billion spent in transportation infrastructure, it is estimated that that 24,000new jobs are supported. Illinois’ current 10% unemployment rate is higher than the 9% national level.