State officials feeling good about highway plans

Passage of a five-year, $305 billion federal transportation bill will mean more money for Illinois and the ability to do more long-range planning, according to state and local officials.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act was approved by the U.S. House and Senate on Thursday by bipartisan votes of 359-65 and 83-16, respectively. President Barack Obama signed the measure Friday.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said the bill “makes critical policy changes and provides five years of certainty for Illinois and our local governments.”

“The fact that it’s a five-year bill is a big win,” Normal Mayor Chris Koos said on Friday. “It gives states and communities the ability to plan long term.”

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a good bill,” he said.

Illinois will receive about $7.5 billion for highways over the FAST Act’s five years, an average increase of $134 million a year over the previous transportation act, known as MAP-21.

The state’s share of the federal funding formula is relatively unchanged at 3.63 percent, behind California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, said Guy Tridgell, deputy director of communications for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The act also provides about $3 billion over five years for public transit in Illinois, an average increase of $72 million more per year over MAP-21.

That represents 6.45 percent of the total federal funding for transit, the highest share for Illinois since 2006 and placing it behind only New York, California and New Jersey.

“This bill allows us to build some certainty into our long-range planning,” said Tridgell, adding when Illinois comes out with its next multiyear road plan next spring, “it will likely reflect the passage of the FAST Act.”

Greater predictability is welcome “after years of short-term legislative patches,” noted U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Peoria Republican.

That certainty also is helpful to Illinois businesses considering expansion or investment in their operations, said Todd Maisch, Illinois Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

One lingering problem is finding a way to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, which gets its money from motor fuel taxes. With more fuel efficient and hybrid cars paying less motor fuel tax and electric cars paying no motor fuel tax, the solvency of the trust fund has been called into question.

Ashley Phelps, a spokeswoman for Davis, said the congressman “would like to see a more diversified portfolio” contributing to the Highway Trust Fund and added, in reference to electric cars, “we need to bring these cars into the mix,” to pay for roads and bridges.

In a speech on the House floor before the vote, Davis noted that “about 80 percent of all of the road projects that are funded in my state of Illinois are funded by federal dollars.”

Davis worked with Koos in advocating for more local control of transportation dollars, said Phelps.

The FAST Act increases the share of Surface Transportation Program funding that is directed to metropolitan areas. Local governments will receive about $25 million more per year over five years.

Davis would have liked to see that local control go further, particularly in relation to communities with populations of 200,000 or less, Phelps said.