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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 09:56 pm

Springfield goes to Washington

Local leaders pushing for transportation jobs funding


As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., debate a far-reaching transportation funding measure that could mean jobs for Springfield, government and religious leaders here are making their voices heard in the nation’s capital.

The U.S. House will likely vote on a five-year transportation bill this month, which could increase the number of transportation-related jobs for minorities and women in Springfield. But the City of Springfield, Sangamon County and the Faith Coalition for the Common Good are fighting an uphill battle to push a Democratic version of the bill in the Republican-controlled House.

On Feb. 6, Springfield mayor Mike Houston and Sangamon County Board chairman Andy Van Meter sent a joint letter to each member of Illinois’ congressional delegation, urging lawmakers in Washington to support continued funding for rail relocation projects in the Five-Year Surface Transportation Reauthorization, the perennial legislation determining how federal transportation funds are spent.

A Republican-sponsored version of the bill, H.R. 7, cuts out a longstanding rail relocation fund and other programs that could benefit Springfield as a proposed high-speed rail line is built through the city – especially if Springfield’s Third Street and 10th Street rail corridors are eventually combined. Houston, Van Meter and others support the rail relocation funding and other measures contained in a Democrat-sponsored version of the bill, H.R. 3200.

“It is our primary duty to make sure that the investment in high­speed rail is made in a way that is most beneficial to local interests, and we believe that such an investment must include rail relocation,” Houston and Van Meter said in their letter. “As you and your colleagues debate the details of this very sensible multi­year approach, we implore you, please do not leave the Illinois corridor project half complete, a situation that would leave our community and many communities along the corridor in a terrible mess. We respectfully request that you carry the message to your colleagues: finish what you have started!”

The Springfield-based Faith Coalition for the Common Good took its advocacy a step further by sending an emissary to Washington, D.C. Faith Coalition member Irma Wallace of Springfield joined advocates from other cities around the nation in Washington earlier this month to emphasize support for rail relocation funding and other measures.

For the Faith Coalition, the transportation bill adds up to jobs. The coalition has already obtained commitments from the City of Springfield, the Sangamon County Board, and a handful of congressional members to ensure that 30 percent of the construction jobs associated with rail relocation will be reserved for low-income people, minorities and women. Meanwhile, one percent of the total project funding should go toward training for those jobs, the coalition says.

Wallace says about 25 advocates representing the Transportation Equity Network, the national grassroots campaign that organized the trip, separately visited more than 300 congressional offices. Wallace met with staff of Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican from Peoria, and Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican from Urbana, both of whom Wallace says expressed support for rail relocation funds. Johnson is a cosponsor of H.R. 3200 and a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which is considering the issue.

 “Our economy depends on our ability to get to work, and our ability to get to work depends on public transportation,” Wallace said. “With high-speed rail, we don’t want Springfield to be left out of local jobs, and we want the policies which benefit
low-income people, people of color, and women to be included.”

Illinois’ senior senator in Washington, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, urged members of the Senate to support rail relocation and related funds if they are cut by the House.

“Illinois – as the road, rail and aviation hub of the country – is in dire need of increased investment to upgrade our aging transportation network,” Durbin wrote in a Jan. 31 letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is pursuing a transportation bill that will cut passenger rail programs. These policies will make it harder for our nation to achieve a truly multimodal transportation network and I urge you to reject all House attempts to cut passenger, freight and multimodal programs.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.


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