The Illinois Chamber and the Transportation for Illinois Coalition are proud to acknowledge Congress has finally provided a longer-term transportation spending plan for our state and the nation. The Surface Transportation Bill, passed on June 29th and signed into law by President Obama on July 6th, will fund important infrastructure projects vital to the future growth of our economy.

Members of the Illinois Congressional delegation were instrumental in bringing about what will undoubtedly be recognized as one of the few truly significant bipartisan accomplishments to come out of the 112th Congress.

While U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Jerry Costello were the only members of the Illinois delegation selected to serve on the conference committee that crafted the final bill, many others played pivotal roles. Congresswoman Biggert and Congressmen Dold, Schock and Schilling were stalwart advocates for the measure who helped smooth over numerous bumps that occurred during the lengthy ordeal. Congressmen Johnson, Hultgren and Lipinski all serve on the originating committee, and Congressman Roskam was a critical conduit for communication with Speaker Boehner and the House leadership team. Senator Kirk was an early advocate and champion for getting a transportation bill reauthorized in this Congress.

Only Congressman Walsh voted against the measure, while Senator Kirk and Congressman Jackson missed the vote for health reasons. All 17 members of the Illinois House delegation who supported the legislation deserve to be recognized, along with Sen. Durbin, whose leadership role in the Senate was instrumental in passing an effective transportation funding solution.

The bill did not raise taxes or contain any controversial earmarks. It successfully consolidated dozens of programs and removed many bureaucratic hurdles that have often resulted in construction delays and significantly added to project costs. In the absence of new revenue, the bill’s streamlining provisions were critical to ensuring limited funds will be used more efficiently. In the construction industry, the adage that “time is money” is well documented.

Thanks to the new federal transportation bill, 68,000 people in Illinois will keep or get new jobs over the next several years. More than $4 billion will be invested in Illinois’ infrastructure, from projects like the Route 51 expansion near Decatur and the I-74 bridge replacement in the Quad Cities to the extension of the red line in Chicago and continued work to remove freight and passenger rail bottlenecks in northeastern Illinois. Additionally, the bill finally brings some certainty after multiple short-term extensions of the original law that expired in 2009.

The Transportation for Illinois Coalition, which is comprised of business, civic, labor and construction groups, has worked for more than a decade to focus public and our policymakers’ attention on the enormous need for infrastructure improvements in Illinois. As our roads, bridges and transit systems decay, safety concerns rise to make that investment all the more critical. We must maintain our existing infrastructure while vigorously pursuing new opportunities for modernization, expansion and efficiencies that assist economic growth.

Adoption of a new federal highway and transit bill through a Congress known for sharp partisan differences was not an easy task, but the overwhelming votes of support in each chamber yielded a compromise that provides long overdue good news for our industries, communities and the economy. By putting more people to work on good jobs repairing transportation systems and moving the economy, we all win.

Illinoisans have a reason to be proud of our Congressional delegation as they overcame Washington’s divisive atmosphere and united to support a two-year spending plan that will pump billions of dollars into the nation’s transportation systems and ensure Illinois remains a major recipient of vital federal funds.

Our coalition’s message was clear. If we work together, we can make a compelling case for how investment in transportation systems promotes the nation’s economy and returns great benefits.

Much remains to be done both in Springfield and in Washington in order to get where we need to be on transportation funding issues. The limited duration of the federal transportation and infrastructure law means the measure will have to be revisited as soon as the new Congress is seated next January. Likewise, in Springfield, the 2009 capital funding bill which finances state and local construction projects will expire next year.

We must remain hopeful the recent progress on transportation funding issues can be replicated after the election, for infrastructure improvements are fundamental to the pursuit of job growth and a more prosperous economy for the nation and the people of Illinois. iBi