Friday, June 30, 2017

Illinois Sens.: FASTLANE change could delay key rail projects

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The Merchant Rail Bridge will have to shutdown within 10 years if it is not replaced. The Merchant Rail Bridge will have to shutdown within 10 years if it is not replaced. TRRA

A pair of U.S. senators from Illinois say the restructuring of the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grant program could delay progress on two key rail projects: the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project and Merchants Railroad Bridge Project.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) are calling on the Trump Administration to fully fund the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) fiscal year 2017 FASTLANE grants program. USDOT unveiled plans to rework the FASTLANE program into the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) discretionary grant program.

The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project is the largest project in the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program and would eliminate Belt Junction, which is called the most congested rail chokepoint in the Chicago Terminal. The Merchants Rail Bridge, owned by the Terminal Railroad Association (TRRA), is the sixth busiest Mississippi River rail bridge in the country and serves the nation's third busiest rail hub. TRRA plans to fund nearly two-thirds of the bridge replacement project, but without federal funds, the bridge will be taken out of service within 10 years.

"Investing in our transportation infrastructure creates jobs, revitalizes neighborhoods, and grows small businesses across Illinois. But today's announcement by the Trump Administration only works to delay critical transportation funding," said Sen. Durbin. "President Trump promised a trillion dollar infrastructure package, but instead his budget slashed transportation investments and his Administration continues to delay funding. I urge the president to immediately fund and advance the hundreds of millions of dollars in FASTLANE grants around the country."

The FASTLANE program was established through the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to support freight and highway projects nationwide and had been authorized $850 million in FY17. USDOT solicited applications for the grants late last year. As part of the retooling of the program into the INFRA program, USDOT said previous FASTLANE applicants may resubmit application, but must explain how the project competitively addresses the INFRA grant criteria.

"I am deeply disappointed in the Trump Administration's decision to delay much-needed investments in our nation's infrastructure by re-soliciting FASTLANE applications," said Sen. Duckworth. "In Illinois, projects like the CREATE Program in Chicago and Merchants Bridge in Metro East would create hundreds of local jobs while improving our regional and national transportation systems."