Crain’s Transportation Event Series: Infrastructure: A $1 Trillion Opportunity

Senators Durbin, Duckworth Talk Infrastructure

After years of promises and false starts, the largest infrastructure legislation in decades has passed Congress. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan package includes major investments in roads, bridges, public transit, railways, broadband and safe water.

Recognizing the legislation’s potential to have an extraordinary impact on Chicago and the region, Crain’s recently held a webcast to take a deeper look at what’s in the bill and how it will benefit the area. Illinois’ U.S. senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin appeared together on the webcast—part of the Crain’s 2021 Transportation Event Series, exploring topics related to transportation and infrastructure in the region and state.

The event was sponsored by H.W. Lochner, a national transportation and engineering firm based in Chicago. In opening remarks, Paul Loete, Illinois area manager and vice president at Lochner, noted that the new federal legislation comes just two years after the passage of the $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital plan. "We are at a unique time in respect to how technology and the environment are transforming transportation," he said.

Crain’s reporter Greg Hinz led the discussion. Here are five key questions and the senators’ responses.

  1. What’s in the bill for Illinois?
    The bill is a big win for the state, creating jobs and making major investments in roads and bridges, public transit, passenger rail, drinking and wastewater, and broadband. In particular, Duckworth noted that Illinois will receive $9.8 billion in federal highway aid; $1 billion for bridge replacement and repairs; $4 billion for public transit; $100 million for broadband coverage across the state; $149 million to expand an electric vehicle charging network in the state; as well as becoming eligible for competitive grant programs.
  2. Why should people of Illinois care?
    "You don’t really appreciate infrastructure until you don’t have it," Durbin remarked. Good, solid infrastructure means people can get to work and school, and be more productive. In fact, the state has 2,400 structurally deficient bridges. "We need to make this investment," Durbin said. He emphasized Illinois’ big advantage: location, location, location. "We are in the middle of the nation and have always been able to capitalize on that," he said. But, he added, it’s time to modernize highways, railroads and take infrastructure to the next level. That includes investments in the future, such as those exemplified by the Rivian electric vehicle plant in Normal with more than 2,000 employees, and Libertyville-based EVBox, a global manufacturer of charging stations. Duckworth said that the infrastructure package is an investment in our communities and that Illinois can lead the way to sell innovative technology to the world.
  3. What about public transportation?
    Bus and rail systems will be improved across the state. Funds will help accelerate the All Stations Accessibility Program, championed by Duckworth, who uses a wheelchair. She recalled attending an event several years ago to launch an effort to make CTA stations accessible only to learn that it could take 20 years. "I’ll finally be able to ride the L," she said. The extension of the CTA’s Red Line south from 95th street will be a priority to receive grant money for special projects, according to Durbin. "Buses are important too," he said. Peoria and Rock Island are modernizing their bus systems. Champaign-Urbana has introduced hydrogen fuel cell powered buses. The hydrogen is produced with solar power, creating zero emissions. "We will be funding the same thing in Chicago," Durbin said.
  4. Will Amtrak be improved?
    "Amtrak is the future not the past," Durbin said. "We want to expand it." New train engines and passenger cars are being introduced to improve the passenger experience. The senators agreed that Amtrak’s on-time performance is a concern, pointing to freight train interference delays. Freight lines mostly own the tracks and give their trains preference in situations where the tracks are shared. Also, the senators would like to see Chicago’s Union Station modernized.
  5. With its older housing stock, lead pipes are a concern. What can homeowners with lead pipes expect?
    "The goal is to replace 100% of the lead service lines in 10 years," Duckworth said. "This infrastructure bill will get us the first five years towards that goal." She said $15 billion in the bill is earmarked for lead service line replacement, prioritizing projects in disadvantaged communities.
  6. Are airports included?
    O’Hare Airport is in the early stages of an $8 billion expansion, mostly funded through local sources. But Illinois airports are expected to receive about $600 million for infrastructure projects from the new legislation. As O’Hare rebuilds its runways and basic support services, Durbin noted that now is the time to think about passengers and meet their 21st Century needs.
  7. What’s left on the infrastructure to-do list?
    Both senators hope to find ways to ease expressway congestion by providing alternative forms of efficient transportation, such as a dedicated highway to O’Hare Airport. "Let’s have a Daniel Burnham, big thinking moment," Durbin said, referring to the famous architect who helped rebuild Chicago after the 1871 fire. Also on the senators’ wish list: More electric vehicle charging stations; high-speed rail; more funds for new water pipes; further broadband expansion; and a carbon market to help cut emissions.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

November 10, 2021 at 02:17PM

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