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updated: 2/20/2011 5:46 PM

Federal leaders hear transportation ideas at DuPage meeting

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U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida, got a laugh Sunday when he told a group of people in DuPage County not to assume that Congress knows anything about the nation's transportation issues.

"That's a given," Mica said. "We need to get specific suggestions from you."

Mica, head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, visited DuPage as part of a series of "listening sessions" he and other committee members are holding across the country to field ideas about ways to improve the country's roads, railways and waterways.

The committee will consider these ideas when Congress begins drafting the next transportation bill, Mica said.

Sunday's session, which took place at the DuPage Airport, was hosted by freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Winfield.

The meeting was attended by a few dozen people, most of them either elected officials or people who work in some part of the transportation industry in Illinois.

Several suburban officials, including DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, asked for the committee's help in creating a roadway that would provide western access to O'Hare International Airport.

Cronin said regional leaders were trying to set up public-private funding partnerships for the project, which he said would have big economic benefits for communities like Bensenville, Hanover Park and Itasca.

Other attendees offered suggestions for how the federal government can make all transportation projects move forward more quickly and efficiently.

Several officials, including Kendall County Board Chairman John Purcell, said federal environmental reviews of construction projects take much too long and end up driving project costs up. Purcell said that federal reviews can take up to three times longer than the engineering on locally funded projects.

Willowbrook resident Gerry Krozel, a business owner and chair of the Illinois chapter of the American Concrete Paving Association, called for a change in priorities in Washington. He said that in 2009, the federal government spent $64 billion more on unemployment compensation than it did on ground transportation projects.

"Take that difference away from unemployment and move it to transportation," he said. "It will take care of the roads, and more importantly, it will actually put people back to work."