Showing posts with label Gary Hannig. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gary Hannig. Show all posts

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Illinois gets money for high-speed rail

By Rachel Wells

Illinois politicians will travel tomorrow by plane to Amtrak stations in Chicago, Alton and Bloomington to unveil a $1.2 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award for Illinois high-speed rail improvements.

The funds -- part of a 31-state, $8 billion program -- will go toward rail improvements on the existing Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The improvements will allow trains to travel up to 110 miles per hour and will reduce travel time between the two cities to four hours, a one-hour decrease. The award will also help pay for an environmental impact study regarding the possible construction of a second track along the route and for the streamlining of train traffic near Chicago.

"The federal funding creates benefits for Springfield and the state of Illinois by creating thousands of jobs, increasing economic activity, boosting tourism and reducing travel time between Chicago and St. Louis by over an hour," Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said in a news release.

Illinois requested $4.5 billion for rail improvements, more than half of the $8 billion appropriated for improvements throughout the country. President Barack Obama has proposed spending an additional $1 billion on high-speed rail for each of the next five years. The proposal requires congressional approval.
Here's how Illinois' $1.2 billion award breaks down:
• $1.1 billion for track construction and signal, station and rolling stock improvements. The work will allow for three to five daily round trips between Alton and Dwight to travel at up to 110 miles per hour.
• $1.25 million for a supplemental environmental impact statement concerning construction of a second track between Chicago and St. Louis capable of carrying trains traveling at up to 110 miles per hour.
• $133 million for construction of a multi-layered train intersection at Englewood. The project would eliminate delays by carrying commuter lines over tracks that now carry intercity passenger services and freight services.
Among the officials appearing on the tour will be Gov. Pat Quinn, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Although the route slated for improvement runs through Springfield, Durbin's hometown, officials will not be stopping in the capital city.

High-speed rail has been a topic of controversy in Springfield, where local leaders once threatened legal action if a second track was built on Third Street, where originally planned, but later agreed to an environmental impact study of an alternative track route. At one point the Illinois legislature got involved when House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, filed a bill that would have denied state funds for a second track along the Third Street route.

Durbin spokeswoman Christina Mulka said Springfield likely just didn't fit into the officials' schedules. "I wouldn't read anything into that," she said. "We're not trying to avoid the area; it's Sen. Durbin's hometown.

"He wants to see high-speed rail in Springfield, and he wants to see it done in a responsible way. ... He'll probably be in Springfield soon enough to talk about high-speed rail and a whole number of other issues."

Springfield city spokesman Ernie Slottag said he didn't connect the exclusion of Springfield to the controversy, nor did he expect a public protest had officials planned a stop in the city. He said the city is waiting to learn more specific details of the award.

Other Illinois towns have also expressed concern about how high-speed rail could change their communities. For more information about high-speed rail, see the November edition of Illinois Issues.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quinn wants high-speed rail for Illinois

By Hilary Russell

The capital plan that recently passed both chambers was missing something that Gov. Pat Quinn said would put Illinois on a path to a more progressive mode of transportation.

Quinn said it was an oversight for lawmakers not to include money for high-speed rail in the $26 billion infrastructure program. Of that, $1.5 billion was not yet earmarked. Quinn said in a Statehouse news conference this morning that he wanted at least a portion of the remaining money to go to high-speed rail.

The General Assembly has nine days to approve a second installment of the capital plan, as well as an operating budget and governmental reforms. “I think it’s important to understand that if we’re going to get this done, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves in the next week to make this happen,” Quinn said.

High-speed rail would address the economic, energy and environmental crises facing the state and the nation, said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association based in Chicago. It would create jobs, help reduce reliance on motor fuel and reduce air pollutants.

One reason Quinn and a large group of bipartisan legislators want money to be designated for high-speed rail is because it could capture a portion of the $8 billion federal stimulus money available to invest in such transportation. The stimulus package would provide an additional $5 billion in grants over the next five years to kick-start high-speed rail development. To capture a federal match, the state must contribute about $400 million to high-speed rail projects, according to Quinn’s administration.

The first route would travel from St. Louis to Chicago at speeds up to 110 mph. It is being touted as an affordable, environmental alternative to driving or flying with the luxury of shorter travel times.

Hannig said the transportation department has a first-of-its-kind agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to draft a blueprint of the Chicago-St.Louis route, which the team would take to Washington, D.C., as a model and a way to compete with other states for additional stimulus funds.

Chicago to St. Louis would be the first but not the last request, Hannig said. Other routes could include Chicago to Milwaukee, Cleveland and Des Moines.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mini-capital plan coming Thursday

By Bethany Jaeger
State lawmakers are expected to vote tomorrow on a “mini-capital plan,” which would drive $2 billion into crumbling roads and bridges and $1 billion into mass transit as part of a five-year transportation program, relying on bonding and transfers from existing state funds. The plan is being framed as a precursor to a more robust capital plan that would rely on new revenues through driving-related fees and, potentially, tax increases. But some fear enacting a mini-capital plan now could slow the momentum for a larger plan later.

Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig, former deputy leader for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said this afternoon in the Statehouse that the mini-capital plan would go toward maintaining and fixing existing roads and bridges, not paving new ones.

“Right now, the conditions of our roads as rated by the engineers is about 76 percent, which most people would say is not good,” he said. “Within the next five years, we want to take the conditions of the roads … and bring them up to 90 percent.”

Spending money on existing roads, however, would not tap into federal highway funds that have been waiting a long time for a state match. Hannig added that the proposal would include an emergency plan to fill potholes on some state and local roads.

While Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee in his chamber, said he would vote to support the mini-capital plan, he said it would be a minimal investment that drastically undercuts the funding needed for mass transit.

There’s been a longstanding agreement that for every $1 spent on mass transit, the state would spend $2 on roads and bridges. Sandoval wants to change that so the state would spend an equal amount on each. He cited a five-year plan to dedicate about $5.5 billion for roads and bridges and another $5.5 billion for transit.

“Now is the time to do it right,” Sandoval said in a Statehouse news conference this afternoon. “Doing it in a half-step method today is the wrong way to go.”

To generate some more money that could shore up funds for mass transit, he supports the idea to increase the state’s motor fuel tax by at least 8 cents a gallon. That’s currently proposed in HB 1. Yet, Sandoval said that a motor fuel tax increase, alone, wouldn’t be enough. It would have to be coupled with Quinn’s proposed increases in driving-related fees, as well as federal funds.

Brian Imus, state director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, added that the Illinois Department of Transportation could use some of the $1.4 billion of federal stimulus funds for mass transit, but the department has not planned to do so. (We wrote about mass transit advocates last week.)

Transportation Department spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said the agency decided to put all federal “highway investment” funds into highways rather than into transit. “There are needs in both programs, and we chose to use the limited funds to address road and bridges,” she said in an e-mail.

Sandoval’s push for more mass transit money will come up again the week the legislature returns from its two-week spring break. He said he plans to schedule a public hearing in Springfield to discuss a $13.5 billion capital plan called for by labor and business officials of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition. That $13.5 billion, however, also doesn’t include a specific funding source. The coalition offers general ideas here. The coalition did send letters today to the governor and to lawmakers to say its members supported the mini-capital plan.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Countdown to capital begins

By Bethany Jaeger and Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn wants at least a portion of his statewide plan for major construction projects approved by the General Assembly before April 3. That’s the last session day scheduled before legislators are supposed to head home for a two-week spring break, and Quinn reportedly said today that he thinks they should bypass spring break to work on a capital plan.

The $26 billion plan, called Illinois Jobs Now, eventually would fund infrastructure, mass transit, railroad improvements, new school buildings, housing, conservation projects, and water treatment projects. Two new projects also would include an airport near Chicago’s south suburbs and the construction of the first veterans’ home within Chicago.

The proposed funding mechanisms, as usual, spark controversy. If Quinn’s budget plan were approved, vehicle-related fees would help fund road and bridge construction. (Driver’s license fees would increase from $10 to $20; license plate fees would go from $79 to $99; and vehicle registration fees would rise from $15 to $30.) Mass transit projects would be funded by title transfer fees, which would increase from $65 to $105.

Plans to build new schools, then, would be funded by shaving a portion of tax revenues typically given to local governments.

In addition to federal stimulus money, Quinn also proposes using about $150 million a year from the state’s dedicated Road Fund. That would allow the state to bond/borrow money to pay for projects specifically for roads and bridges.

That’s one portion of a capital plan that could be done by April 3. Senate President John Cullerton said it could be realistic for the legislature to approve increasing the amount the state may borrow for the purposes of kick-starting a road program and tapping into federal matching funds.

The part of the capital plan that will take the longest to negotiate is other sources of funding, especially if it's intertwined with an attempt to increase the state income tax rate or motor fuel tax rate. For instance, Cullerton said he still supports the idea of increasing the state’s 19-cent tax on each gallon of motor fuel, which hasn’t changed since 1990. He describes the motor fuel tax as a traditional way to pay for roads, and because it’s a so-called user fee, people could adjust their lifestyles if they didn’t want to pay more. (Senate Democrats are working on a plan that would increase the tax by about 16 cents, while the House is considering a bill to increase the tax by 8 cents.) According to Cullerton, an 8-cent increase could generate $500 million.

Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee in his chamber, agreed that an increase in the gasoline tax has support in the legislature and would fund a “robust” capital plan. He’s sponsoring SB 200, which doesn’t have language, yet, but could be used to advance a motor fuel tax bill.

Sandoval is one critic of Quinn’s capital plan because, he said, he’s concerned it would be unfair to Chicago. “Mass transit takes a huge hit at a time when we’re preparing for the Olympics, at a time when we’re trying to protect the environment, at a time when we’re trying to put people back to work. Gov. Quinn is going in the wrong direction when it relates to mass transit.”

Under Quinn’s proposed budget, the Chicago-area Regional Transportation Authority would lose $32 million in grants for operating assistance. Public transportation also would lose about $42 million, but that’s based on decreased sales tax revenues. Downstate transportation districts, on the other hand, would see an increase of about $24 million.

Jennifer Morrison, managing director of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, said that her organization was encouraged by Quinn's emphasis on a long-awaited capital plan but that the funding for mass transit, highways and local roads would be “way too small to make any meaningful impact.” She added that the budget plan is “more than a little unclear” about which revenue sources would be designated to which projects.

While neither Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno nor House Minority Leader Tom Cross supports Quinn’s fee increases, they said last week that they do hope to meet with the governor to work out a compromise.

Another part of the plan that will take a long time to negotiate is how the money would be distributed throughout the state. Not only could it differ depending on the source of revenue approved by the legislature, but it also could change if Democratic Rep. Kathleen Ryg of Vernon Hills has her say.

She wants the planning process to empower local stakeholders through various metropolitan planning organizations. House Bill 2359 would create a new advisory committee to the Illinois Department of Transportation when prioritizing road projects. Ryg said the new committee would help assure taxpayers and state officials that the limited amount of money available would be spent on the best use, particularly as a capital bill is drafted and new revenue sources are generated.

The recent appointment of Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig, a former state representative and budget expert for House Democrats, actually could help the measure advance. Ryg said this afternoon that she changed her bill from its original form in response to concerns expressed by Hannig shortly after his transition from the legislature to the state agency. Now Ryg's bill would ensure more representation for all areas of the state, including those that don't have metropolitan planning organizations.

Her bill also would change the way projects would get funded. Currently, engineers distribute money based on such factors as the condition of roads, the traffic flow and the population served. Ryg said her bill would fund the greatest maintenance needs first, and then the regional groups would advise the Transportation Department on other local needs. All areas of the state would be evaluated under the same set of new criteria.

Regardless of which revenue sources the General Assembly ultimately agrees upon, the influx of money has some legislators nervous about whether their districts will benefit. So watch for the concept in Ryg’s bill to serve as a potential “accountability” measure, meant to assure legislators that, at the least, their areas would be represented in the decision-making process.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quinn taps key Democratic negotiator

By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn named Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat and a deputy majority leader for House Speaker Michael Madigan, as director of the Illinois Department of Transportation. He replaces former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointee, Milton Sees, who served in the position since 2007.

Hannig, an accountant, had been a state representative since 1979 and served as the chief budget negotiator for the Democratic Caucus. Quinn said Hannig has the experience, expertise and integrity to lead the department.

Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield, described the move as a positive step for the Quinn administration, potentially improving rather strained relations between the executive and legislative branches as they prepare to negotiate a long-awaited capital plan and a spending plan for federal stimulus funds. As Madigan’s second in command, Hannig is well-known and well-liked in both houses and on both sides of the aisle, Redfield said. “He knows the issues. He’s widely respected, and very, very experienced.”

Hannig said this morning that communication suffered under the Blagojevich administration because promises repeatedly were made and broken. He said he thinks that a little trust could go a long way. “I know them [members of the General Assembly] by name, and they know me, and I am not going to lie to them,” Hannig said.

Hannig said he has been meeting with Christine Reed, chief engineer and director of the department’s Highway Division, to prepare for the job and for handling federal stimulus funds. Hannig said that he thinks they make a good team because while he has budgeting experience, she has the engineering expertise.