Local officials’ lobbying key to road programs
Bannockburn Village Manager Maria Lasday, U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-Kenilworth, and Bannockburn Trustee David Kurer talk before a Transportation Management Association meeting at Baxter Healthcare. | Stacia Timonere~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2012 7:41PM
DEERFIELD — With the elimination of federal earmarks, residents and local elected officials play a key role in securing funding for local transportation projects, according to U.S. Rep. Robert Dold, R-Kenilworth.
Dold said at a federal and state transportation update meeting Friday at Baxter Healthcare that while he would love to target money for local projects such as the extension of Illinois Route 53 or the widening of Interstate 94, all he can do is try to get money for such projects included in what federal dollars get allocated to Illinois for road improvements.
“I can add revenue to what goes to the state, but the state decides on the projects,” Dold told the gathering of local transportation leaders. “It makes your place as an advocate for projects more important than it ever has been before.”
He added that movement is in the works in the nation’s capital to speed up the required steps for road projects. Dold said projects can take 15 years or more from start to finish — and that has to improve.
Dold and Ann Schneider, Illinois Department of Transportation secretary, were the featured speakers at Friday’s meeting.
Schneider noted that several road improvement projects either are in the works or in the phase I development stage for Lake and north Cook counties. The biggest ticket item in the current projects is the two-year effort to rebuild and widen I-94 near the Illinois-Wisconsin border and at the Illinois Route 173 interchange. The $40.1 million project is being paid for through Illinois Jobs Now funds, a combination of state bonds and federal dollars.
Seven IDOT projects, such as the proposed north extension of Illinois Route 53, are listed as “under development.”
“There are a lot of projects in phase I study,” said Marty Buehler, executive director of the Lake County Transportation Alliance. “Is (the amount of projects in) phase I being looked at?”
Schneider said that a number of IDOT teams are combing through the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which maps out the federal funding of surface transportation programs for fiscal years 2013 and ’14, to see if ways exist to streamline some phase I projects.
Dold and Schneider both said they were disappointed that the MAP program covered only two years of funding.
“We can’t be stagnant,” Schneider said. “We need to have our next projects on deck.”
She said Illinois leaders should start working now on setting priorities for the next round of federal road project funding “to keep competitive.”
“We want to capitalize on all the federal dollars that are available to us,” Schneider said.
Bill Baltutis, executive director of the Transportation Management Association of Lake Cook, said being able to get workers to and from their places of employment and customers to businesses is vital for the area’s success.
“It is not just the transportation side, but there is the economic side, too,” Baltutis said. “...There are 20,000 employees in this area — at Baxter, at Walgreens — who work and live here because of the transportation confluence. There is a significant benefit. It improves the economy.”