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Toxic Transportation Bill? DC Vote Could Have Big Local Service And Political Ramifications

By JoshMogerman in News on Feb 12, 2012 10:00PM

Brown Bus under the Western Blue Line stop [Dean Peterson]

Have you heard the howling over the massive Transportation Bill being discussed in the nation’s capitol? The Sun-Times had a forceful editorial today outlining unsavory outcomes the bill’s passage would have on commutes and construction projects in both Chicago and Illinois. The Grid, Chicago’s excellent transit blog, has grimly recounted troubling impacts on local roads, bike paths, bus service and trains. And in the runup to a vote this week, the political carnage that could follow is giving a number of local politicians second thoughts about supporting the bill.

The bill is intended to re-up funding for critical road and bridge infrastructure coming from the national gas tax. It has funded mass transit and bike infrastructure since the Reagan Administration. But this version of the bill has expanded to include drilling provisions that open most of the surface area of the United States and its adjacent waters to oil and gas production, while eliminating much of the bike and transit funding. Not surprisingly, support for the bill has been split down party lines.

Crain Chicago’s Greg Hinz has been on the story all week, noting the seeming unity of concern from a diverse array of local transit and policy voices, as well as a quick peel-off of support for the bill from an unlikely local cadre of House reps. While they may support some of the provisions, it seems impossible for area politicians to ignore the likely impacts to a metro area like Chicago. Hinz noted on Friday:

Congressmen who represent Chicago's suburbs finally are weighing in on that transportation bill that's due to hit the House floor next week, and they don't like what they see.
In a flurry of statements after several days of quiet review, U.S. Reps. Robert Dold, Judy Biggert and Adam Kinzinger — all Republicans — flatly say or strongly suggest that they cannot support the bill drafted by House GOP leadership.
If you want to piss voters off, messing with their commute is an easy way to do it. And there is no doubt that stripping $450 million in funding for CTA, Metra, and Pace will impact all commuters in Chicagoland, even if they do not use those services. Eliminating long-awaited projects like Bloomingdale Trail and the Skokie Valley Trail won’t garner a lot of good will either.

Chicago commutes are already third longest in the nation. We hope our representatives in Washington will get past the political fight over what former Republican Illinois Representative and current Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called “the worst transportation bill I've ever seen” and do what they can to prevent Chicago commutes from getting even worse.