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The Fight for Rail Funding in Illinois Escalates

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 24, 2011 8:00PM

House Republicans are targeting $6.8 billion in transportation spending cuts across the country. Among the programs facing a removal in funding is $133 million allocated to build a bridge at 63rd and State which would allow Metra trains to pass over the Norfolk Southern tracks that also serve Amtrak lines. Dubbed the "Englewood Flyover," the project, when completed, would reduce a bottleneck affecting 80 Metra Rock Island Line trains and 60 Amtrak and freight trains a day.

State lawmakers say they'll fight the cuts, arguing that President Obama promised the funds under the Stimulus Bill. Christina Angarola, spokeswoman for Sen. Dick Durbin, said, "The Congressional Research Service tells us this is the first time one body of Congress has voted to take away from a project funding the federal government has already committed to give." The project, if it moves forward, would create 1,450 jobs.

It isn't just Democrats that are frustrated. Freshman congressman Bobby Schilling, who received the support of the Tea Party, voted in favor of the cuts. Now he has to answer to his voters in his district why he's in favor of scrapping a $230 million grant that would build a commuter rail line from Chicago to the Quad Cities. Schilling said he doesn't think the project is quite dead.

"I'm not saying that we don't ever do Amtrak," Schilling said. "I'm saying that right now. I want to be clear because that was all part of the big picture when you looked at the pros and cons of what was in there, it was definitely the way to go, to vote for this."

Instead, Schilling is quietly hoping that Senators like Durbin, whom Schilling has criticized, will halt the House plan.

"Durbin and [Sen.] Mark Kirk aren't going to let a lot of this stuff flow through, and then it's going to come back and then we break it down on an individual basis," he said. "You know, that's just how the process works."

Look like Schilling is learning the hard way that maybe a little Big Government is a good thing.