Here Are the Deets on Good Transportation Stuff Earmarked in the Infrastructure Bill

The infrastructure bill sets aside $275 million for new Amtrak service to Rockford, home of power-pop legends Cheap Trick. However, this is *not* a rendering of the new rail line.
The infrastructure bill sets aside $275 million for new Amtrak service to Rockford, home of power-pop legends Cheap Trick. However, this is *not* a rendering of the new rail line.

Amid the general celebration over the bipartisan passage of Illinois’ long-awaited $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital bill, with a number of wins for sustainable transportation, there were bound to be some naysayers.

Predictably, the conservative libertarian think tank Illinois Policy Institute is grumpy about the various tax and fee increases that will fund the spending package, particularly the doubling of the state gas tax, which has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1990.

But the kookiest hot-take I’ve seen about the infrastructure bill was from Sun-Times columnist Phil Kadner who made a dubious comparison between the legislation and Ronald Reagan-style trickle-down economics. That theory, which agues that if you slash taxes for wealthy people, it will benefit working-class folks in the long run, was discredited long ago, but it recently reared its ugly head in form of Donald Trump’s corporate tax cuts.

Phil Kadner
Phil Kadner

Kadner claims that Governor J.B. Pritzker’s capital plan represents a variation on that strategy. “In Illinois, the Democratic Party’s theory seems to be if you give the politicians more money, some of it will eventually trickle down to the government programs that actually benefit taxpayers,” he writes. “No one is ever held accountable for spending tax money in Illinois.”

What’s absurd about that claim is that the capital bill specifically earmarks revenue for projects that will benefit the public. Along with funding to construct public buildings and other publics works project, the plan includes a $33 billion, six-year transportation infrastructure program.

More than 23 percent of that money will go to transit, which is less than the 40 percent that was proposed by the Active Transportation Alliance, but about twice as much as was indicated in the initial proposal. And, for the first time ever, $50 million a year will be set aside for walking and biking programs. Here are some of the sustainable transportation projects that received earmarks in the bill, according to Mass Transit Transit Magazine.

The Chicago area’s Regional Transit Authority will get $3.6 billion, including the following:

  • $100 million for the Kendall County Metra extension
  • $60 million for repairs to the Green Line’s Cottage Grove station
  • $8 million for improvements to the Harvey Transportation Center
  • $31.5 million for improvements to the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch
  • $50 million for tactical traction power upgrades on the O’Hare Branch
  • $220 million in capital upgrades for Pace suburban bus service

Downstate transit agencies weren’t left out, receiving over $355 million, including $96 million for an extension of the St. Louis area’s Metro Link light rail system from Scott Air Force Base (located southeast of East St. Louis, Illinois) to nearby MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 9.01.46 PM
St. Louis’ MetroLink will be extended a few miles east from Scott Air Force Base to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. Image: Google Maps

Several Amtrak projects also received set-asides:

  • $100 million for Chicago – Champaign – Carbondale track improvements
  • $122 million track improvements in Springfield
  • $275 million for new passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford
  • $225 million for new passenger rail service to the Quad Cities

That last item makes it likely that in the future I will increase my intake of malt-crust pizza cut into strips with scissors.

Quad Cities-style pizza. (If you're really jonesing for it, just visit one of Chicago's Roots Pizza locations.)
Quad Cities-style pizza. (If you’re really jonesing for it, just visit one of Chicago’s Roots Pizza locations.)

While there aren’t any specific earmarks for walking and biking yet, Active Trans estimates that annual $50 million in bike/ped funding could pay for 125 new projects a year, including safety infrastructure like pedestrian islands and better crosswalks, as well as protected bike lanes and multi-use trails.

So relax Phil Kadner, there’s no question that the infrastructure bill includes “government programs that [will] actually benefit taxpayers” — no trickle-down needed.

  • rwy

    including safety infrastructure like pedestrian islands and better crosswalks, as well as protected bike lanes and multi-use trails.

    What about improved streetlights?

    Also hoping that the Rockford train will stop in Union.

  • paul kuhn

    Rockford is a dying, bankrupt broke town with a declining population usually voted one of the worst places in America to live in . Why spend 275M there. East St Louis is another disaster How many people use these lines or live i

  • Jeremy

    How does the St. Louis MetroLink funding work? The article only says an “extension” will be built. Is there currently a MetroLink line going from St. Louis into Illinois? How much new track will be laid in Illinois?

  • Kevin M

    Chicago’s population has declined in recent years–should we give up on that city, too?
    Rockford is the 3rd largest city in Illinois and the only one in the top 11 to not have rail service to the economic and tourism hub of the Midwest, Chicago. That 275M is a tiny fraction of the amount of road money that has been spent on Rockford–as well as cities and towns much smaller than it over the last decade. Reliable, frequent passenger rail service and mass transit in general are as critical to large, established cities’ survival as is access to roads and high-speed internet.
    I wonder if Rockford’s decline would have not happened if IL had made this transportation investment in or before 2010. What could Rockford look like today if it had never lost passenger rail service 30 or 40 years ago?

  • Kevin M

    To your second question, yes, MetroLink already crosses the Mississippi and serves 11 stations/communities in IL: https://www.metrostlouis.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/OP190179-MetroLink-Kiosk-Map-For-SSPP.pdf

  • Deni

    So what is the newest timeline for getting the Rockford and Quad Cities trains up and running? Rockford was closest before Rauner blocked it, right?

  • Roland Solinski

    Interested to see what the service to Rockford will look like. Van Galder bus lines operates 13 round trips a day from downtown Rockford to downtown Chicago, and 18 round trips from a park/ride lot to O’Hare. If the service isn’t at least this frequent, I don’t see how it can compete.

    The last round of plans for Amtrak service was only for TWO daily round trips with a travel time of 2h30, which is a joke. Even at the peak of rush hour you’re better off taking the Van Galder bus and sitting in traffic.

  • paul kuhn

    Yes. You’re just throwing good money after bad. How many people do you think will go from Rockford to Chicago or the other way around. It’s not going to happen. You can drive there now and people don’t what makes you think that having a train going there will make any difference. Rockford has been and will continue to lose population . This won’t change. Why are they blowing money on this. Well lets see Rockford has a Democratic Congressman and Democratic reps. Why did Rockford lose rail service ? Because people weren’t using it, even when it had more people. So no this won’t make a difference .

    https://patch.com/illinois/rockford/rockford-makes-worst-cities-live-list

  • Kevin M

    From my recollection (as I watched those developments closely back when they seemed imminent):
    The Rockford line:
    There was a tug-o-war over routes between Genoa vs. Elgin/Belvidare. Quinn eventually declaring the line would follow the MD-W to Elgin and pickup a UP-owned line to Rockford and putting a station in Elgin and Belvidare. Personally, I liked this option more as well–for its overlap with existing Metra service. The bridge across the Fox River was single-track and needed to be replaced if additional trains were going to run in/out of Elgin. I’m not sure where the project stands, but I know that it was already approved prior to this capital bill. The UP-line to Rockford is probably where the bulk of the recent capital funds will be spent, as I think it is jointed rail and therefore very slow.
    The Quad-Cities line:
    There’s a connection in Wynet that needs to be built between the BNSF double-track line and the Iowa Interstate line (not sure if that’s single or double track). Currently, these tracks cross each other but do not connect. Also, I think the Iowa line is slower and needs some upgrades to make the passenger rail service competitive.
    So, I don’t really have the info you asked for, but perhaps I still offered some further context that you found helpful. I am also very interested in the timeline to building-out these services, and I hope that IDOT spends a little time and money to communicate each of these plans and market the future service. IDOT’s communication around their federally-backed work on the CHI-SPR line leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Kevin M

    I agree that the train time needs to be competitive. That being said, trains offer a better travel experience than buses, so the paying public will probably allow some trade-off if necessary.

  • Kevin M

    Rockford lost passenger rail service for the same reason cities across the country lost it: because the federal government heavily subsidized a competing transportation mode–private cars–that economically crushed the private railroads. When you’ve accepted that history, your view of the decline of passenger rail in America will look at lot different. I know, I know…its hard to imagine the great free-market capitalist-America using massive public subsidies to put kill off a privately-run industry, but rest-assured there were many private interests who also profited from the federal government tipping the scales of the transportation market.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    For the record, there are plenty of reasons for Chicagoans to visit Rockford. https://newcity.com/2014/05/27/checkerboard-city-cheap-trip-a-rockford-rendezvous/

  • paul kuhn

    People bought cars because they were convenient and cheap. Gasoline taxes paid for the roads. So the users of the roads paid for them. Public transport is heavily subsidized . RTA gets millions in tax payer dollars every year . And still they screw things up. Train travel especially long distance doesn’t make a lot of economic sense in the US. Its cheaper to fly or to use your car. Trains went away because they weren’t competitive even with subsidies . Amtrak gets billions from the Federal government and still people don’t use it. California looks like it will kill its high speed rail line from LA to San Fran because they realized it was a money loser. Sorry Rockford is a loser city like Illinois is a loser state.

  • Chris Gilliam

    Anything for Blue Line Forest Park branch? Forgive me if it’s in the article and my eyes jumped over it.

  • Kevin M

    Lots of falsehoods and hate in this message. I hope tomorrow goes better for you.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s the Shilo-Scott station. Shiloh is the town to the west of the station; the development just east of the station is the air force base.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Public transport and Amtrak is heavily subsidized.” LOL, like roads, Interstates, and free on-street storage for cars aren’t? https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/07/26/if-americans-paid-for-the-parking-we-consume-wed-drive-500-billion-fewer-miles-each-year/comment-page-2/

  • paul kuhn

    Nope just simple facts . Do you have any data that contradicts what I’ve posted here ? Here is some more data about Rockford eight straight years of population decline.

    https://www.wifr.com/content/news/Census-Rockfords-population-declines-for-eighth-straight-year-508764161.html

    Don’t expect that to change.

  • Jeremy

    Gas taxes pay for less than half of roads. The rest is made up of income, sales, and property taxes.

    https://uspirg.org/reports/usp/who-pays-roads

  • paul kuhn

    Not In Illinois where it is more than half.

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/07/us-transportation-funding-is-not-created-equal/534327/

    The lack of toll roads in Chicago probably contributes to this small percentage and the low taxes for electric vehicles.

    People in the suburbs probably pay a lot more since almost all of the roads out here are toll roads . You know the ones that the Politicians promised us would be pair for by now . LOL

    The same ones who promise us just a few more tax increase and everything will be fine.

    RTA gets well over half of its funding from the State and count taxes.

    https://rtachicago.org/finance-management/operating-revenue-and-funding

  • Kevin M

    Yes, I do. It is a well-known fact that Rockford is not a “loser city” nor is Illinois a “loser state”. There are about 150k people who would agree to the former and 12.7M people who would agree to the latter.

  • paul kuhn

    Rockford has seen its population decline for eight straight years now. Illinois has seen its decline for five straight years. Only West Virginia has a longer history of population decline. Illinois has lost Congressional seats in every census since 1950 except for 1970. It has gone from having twenty six congressional districts to only eighteen this year. It will definitely lose one congressional district in the 2020 census and may lose two. Roughly half the residents of Illinois would leave if they could

  • Jeremy

    You went from “gasoline taxes paid for the roads” to gasoline taxes paid for 55% of the roads.

  • Kevin M

    Oh, I thought you meant “loser” in a pejorative, figurative way–which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yeah, I guess you are right about Rockford and Illinois seeing some drop in their populations. But we’ve got weeeeeeed, and that’s something many of those population-boom-townsstates don’t and won’t any time soon. I can’t wait to get stoned and ride the train to Rockford! Koo-koo-ka-choo-choo!

  • paul kuhn

    How many do ? . Why would you go to one of the worst places to live in the US. A town that more and more people leave every year. A train to Rockford is a waste of money. Nothing more than a gift to some local Democratic politicians .

    On a per mile basis Amtrak is probably the most heavily subsidized transportation in the US . And still people don’t use it. It’s slow the service is lousy. It doesn’t make a lot of sense economically . Only place it does is in the Northeast Corridor .

  • paul kuhn

    Buses are more efficient . Their schedules are more adaptable . Trains only make sense in heavily populated corridors . Rockford is not a heavily populated corridor . People are leaving it

  • Kevin M

    People are leaving Rockford? Nah, not me, Paul. Koo-koo-ka-choo-choo!

  • paul kuhn

    Have fun. How do you like living in one of the worst places in America.

  • paul kuhn

    Which is why this will be a waste of time and money.

  • Bob

    Time to jump ship on this s#$@ hole state. You all can keep it till they are taking 75% of your earnings. No cuts. No pension reform. No balance budget. And they gave themselves a raise. Not to mention putting polling places in jails, and illegals aliens more free stuff. When are all the people in and around Chicago going to wake up and stop electing these tax and spend politicians.

  • Kevin M

    Oh, c’mon, Paul, you know with all these trains and weed, how could it be such a bad place to live?

    Seriously, do you live in Illinois and hate where you live, or do you live somewhere else and just enjoy hating on Illinois?

  • Connie

    Republicans who supported an increase in the gas tax have no confidence
    in President Trump to provide funding for infrastructure projects.
    President Trump has promised to provide $2 Trillion in total for
    infrastructure projects.

    Trump has a track record of success when it comes to getting things done in sharp contrast to the Illinois GOP. Illinois could get $400 Billion in
    funding from the federal government instead of $40 Billion without the
    downside of having to raise our own gas tax.

    Republicans and Democrats who refuse to trust President Trump are the single biggest
    problem in Illinois politics. I would bet on Trump over JB Pritzker any
    day.

  • Austin Busch

    Sure, but once there, how do you get around? Amtrak+bike makes it much more attractive.

  • paul kuhn

    Illinois already has trains. And weed hasn’t been that hard to find for years now. Making it legal and adding more trains especially to places like Rockford aren’t going to make it better.

    I personally can’t wait to leave this state. Of course half the people who live here feel the same way .

  • Deni

    Yeah, I am pretty aware of the plans as they existed, just not sure how long it will take them to get up and going now after all this time. Rockford was pretty far along in planning. Not sure if the previously chosen route stays that or if they start looking at options again. I wasn’t big on the earlier CN plan with it departing south out of Union Station before turning northwest and I like it hitting Huntley near-ish to the railway museum. I just don’t know how far along they were before Rauner pulled the plug. I believe the timeline back then was supposed to be like a year-and-a-half to get the service up and running. I hope that timeline is still true.

  • I believe that J.B. is richer than Trump so therefore a better bet.

    When Illinois gets the 100s of billion $ from the feds we can repay the state debts including the pension debts. Me I would just turn the debt over to Social Security where it belongs and have them pay a lump sum to cover differences.

    The thing is that Trump and the Pelosi-style house Democratic leadership are never going to give Illinois 100s of billions of $s. That’s a job for Sanders and AOC-type MMT leadership. Neo-Liberal austerity economics of Trump and the dems needs to be replaced with MMT style prosperity economics if we are especially going to tackle climate change with a WWII type Green NEw Deal.

  • You get part of it right. Tax and spend is so yesterday. Now it is spend and tax. The real problem is at the federal level where money can be appropriated. Since states like Illinois can’t appropriate money we must depend upon the feds.

    But the feds have not spent like they needed to have at the state level. That has forced the states to tax for revenue. Taxes are not meant to be a revenue tool. They are meant to be an inflation tool and/or a power de-concentration tool. Extreme wealth directly causes extreme poverty.

    Really polling places need to not just be in the jails but also in the poor Mexican villages where many Illinoisians retreat to in hard times here.

    Anyway glad to hear you are leaving.

  • Losing so-called losers is a net gain. Dead wood, house cleaning, right sizing, these are the words a business would use to describe laying off employees. That’s a cynical way to look at the same process in a state like Illinois but one could. IL is shedding plenty of low skilled and under educated who either migrate back out of the US or on to other states. Again a net plus for Illinois until the economy turns and we attract them back as needed.

    As for losing congressional politicians, really you think that is bad? I’m shocked shocked.

  • paul kuhn

    No not a real plus declining population is rarely if ever a good thing. Losing Congressional representation is not good. You lose millions in tax revenue you lose seats in the House to make the case for your state. So nothing good about that.

    Here is something from the pro-tax union funded CBTA.

    https://budgetblog.ctbaonline.org/who-leaves-illinois-and-where-do-they-go-55779062e9ea

    Of course their spin is that hey not so bad we’re just losing low income people. But I suspect that Illinois is losing a lot of recent graduates. Who do you think makes under 50,000 . Well a lot of recent college graduates are making that kind of money.

    Also has CBTA points out Illinois has been losing people to other states for years now. That Illinois is not a state that people move to . So your dream that people will move back to Illinois is probably not going to happen. Illinois has had one of the nations slowest growing economies for years now. Don’t expect that to change.

  • Alex

    I’m not seeing a whole lot of benefit to the city of Chicago. A few bucks for a cottage grove rehab, while the suburbs and downstate get a large majority of the money.

  • what_eva

    So we’re spending more money on Mid-America Airport. That’s just great. It’s been a complete failure, a terrible attempt by IL politicians to move some business from Lambert (the real St Louis airport). It’s been a failure. Only Allegiant flies there and a smattering of cargo. Unlike the hilariously named “Chicago Rockford Airport” that Allegiant also serves, Mid-America can’t even draw UPS and Amazon.

  • Can’t speak for the suburbs but Chicago has been exchanging less well educated for more well educated. Perhaps not exactly on a one for one basis but probably on a more than one for one dollar income basis.

    So you are hoping that by bashing the state you will wake up its power elite to change their ways?

  • paul kuhn

    Since Chicago has been losing more people than gaining a net decline in people it’s probably not gaining on an over all dollar amount. It is one of the few large American cities to see it’s population decline.

    https://www.minnpost.com/economy/2018/12/unlike-many-cities-chicago-is-losing-people-many-of-them-are-moving-to-minnesota/

    With birth rates declining and an aging population Chicago can count on years of population decline. It is losing younger people it is losing African Americans

    The people who run Chicago and Illinois have made millions of dollars off the current system they will not change . They will continue to take as much as they can from as many people as they can which is the only reason they become “public servants”.

    The only vote that matters in Illinois is with your feet.

  • Stan Quail

    “Predictably, the conservative libertarian think tank Illinois Policy Institute is grumpy about the various tax and fee increases that will fund the spending package, particularly the doubling of the state gas tax, which has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1990.”

    Almost as predictable as this article, which ignores all the details and structural problems associated with the funding of this package because the author doesn’t want to think that hard I guess.

  • You don’t discuss immigration. It is very likely that the normal Chicago replacements from immigration are down. Immigrants tend to be more talented so yes there is likely a brain drain there. When I say more talented I don’t me more educated, just more go-getters and willing to take entrepreneurial risks. Those are the people that would return with an economic upturn.

    The aging population is actually a population attractant. There is a stereotype, for instance, of Filipinos being good at senior care. Seniors will be needing care as they age and they can exhaust their savings and assets paying for it. Yes their kids don’t get their inheritance or even the house, so yes they are leaving in droves.

    By the way the census data back up that Chicago’s losses are being partially made up by many young educated people looking for affordable housing and not needing a car.

    I understand your cynical view of politicians. My own cynical view is that the uber-rich are buying politicians by buying media propaganda, hell forget buying propaganda, buy the media itself, Fox again for example, but even so-called liberal media like NPR is buyable by them.

    But we still have some voting power. In that regard it is likely good for the city that you are voting with your feet. Good luck in your new digs.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    We are spending money on a substandard airport’s transit to connect in to a major metropolitan area. This is exactly what a government is for.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    A few pennies, thats about it. The demolition of the old 4 track West Side Elevated is one of the true tragedies of transit in our town. The soviet politburo highway that is the eisenhower is a disgrace, and transit down the middle of highways only exacerbates the feelings of income inequality and choking asthmatic air. Worst detroit export ever! We love your music, but keep your planning to yourself Dets.

  • paul kuhn

    You’re contradicting yourself. So, you’re suggesting that someone will leave Illinois start up a successful business get involved in the community make contacts have a client base and then return ? That makes absolutely no sense.

    Also you are saying that Chicago population is getting richer which actually has some merit to it. But then you complain about the rich owning the politicians. My take is that the Public employee unions own the politicians. But you want the rich to live here pay higher taxes drive the poor and middle class out. But you don’t want them being involved in the Politics.

    State won’t miss my vote since it’s largely irrelevant any but it will miss my 20,000 a year in property and income taxes and other fees I pay. Multiply that a couple of thousand times and it will begin to hurt. .

    Also since the Public employee unions and the politicians they carry around like so much loose change in their pockets want to tax the rich at higher and higher levels look for more than a few of them to take off like me as well.

    So good luck funding your deeply indebted CIty and State with fewer and fewer people.

  • paul kuhn

    No we’re spending money on a substandard airport that is miles away from a mid size metropolitan area This spending will do no good in terms of attracting business to Mid-America. It’s not economical for airlines to go there. So they won’t Government isn’t or shouldn’t be used to prop up dying infrastructure projects and communities . Another waste of taxpayer money.

  • paul kuhn

    What you seem to suggest is that some people will leave Illinois start businesses , families someplace else become successful become members of their communities and then somehow pack up and return. Highly unlikely.

    Also you seem OK with the rich moving into Chicago which seems possible. But then not wanting to control the political process . You get one you get the other. I don’t think housing in Chicago is affordable. An aging population is only good because you can start closing schools and laying off teachers. So there is some good in that.

    As for the rich moving into Chicago or Illinois . When their tax bills go dramatically up look for some of them to leave .

    My vote in Illinois is largely a waste and irrelevant to both me and the people who run Illinois however the 20,000 a year I supply in Income and Property taxes is not. Multiply that by several thousand a year and you will begin to see more problems in your state . And I will be watching from a safe comfortable paying far less taxes than I’m now.

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