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updated: 4/25/2012 9:11 PM

Durbin named to key transportation funding committee

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  • U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was named to a committee tasked with settling differences between Senate and House bills on transportation funding.

      U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was named to a committee tasked with settling differences between Senate and House bills on transportation funding.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Video: Transportation funding crisis

 
 

Illinois will have a seat at the table when it comes to the latest round of negotiations on transportation funding.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was named to a conference committee this week that will hash out differences in Senate and House bills laying out how to pay for highways, bridges and transit.

But whether that translates into meaningful legislation is anyone's guess.

As of now, the House and Senate are far apart on the issue, with potential deal breakers such as a controversial oil pipeline in the House policy threatening any consensus.

That spells trouble for Metra, the CTA, Pace and the Illinois Department of Transportation, experts say. With no secure source of funding, significant road projects or transit improvements must be put on hold.

Durbin said the talks have to work.

"As the road, rail and aviation hub of the country, Illinois depends on a robust federal investment in transportation projects to keep its economy moving," Durbin said in a statement. "The bipartisan Senate bill that passed last month would invest $3.7 billion in Illinois highways and mass transit over the next two years and create or save nearly three million good-paying jobs across the country. This is an investment we can't afford to lose."

Durbin, a Democrat, said his priorities will include securing money for public transit, increasing the amount of tax-free dollars commuters can set aside for transit costs, and helping Amtrak to improve its on-time performance.

Legislation that allows money to be collected from gas taxes and pay for transportation and infrastructure work will expire June 30. The last long-term bill expired in 2009 and Congress has issued nine extensions since then.

Senate Democrats passed a two-year, $109 billion transportation funding bill with support from Republicans.

House Republicans floated a five-year, $260 billion bill that was significant for its absence of earmarks. However, the policy cut transit funding and died amid in bipartisan flak storm including criticism from Republican U.S. Reps. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale and Robert Dold of Kenilworth.

Most recently, the House passed an extension of the legislation through Sept. 30.

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