MPC testimony to the Ill. House Committee on CREATE Rail Program - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC testimony to the Ill. House Committee on CREATE Rail Program

On April 9, 2007, Michael McLaughlin, MPC Transportation Director, gave testimony to the Illinois House Railroad Committee regarding federal financing of CREATE and other rail needs. According to McLaughlin, completing the CREATE program is essential to

Chairwoman Nekritz, Representative Moffitt , Representative Yarbrough, and Representative Davis, thank you for inviting me here today to talk about federal government activities with regard to railroads. I am Michael McLaughlin , the Transportation Director at the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit business and civic organization that advocates for sensible planning and development policies that keeps Chicago and Illinois economically competitive. MPC is also a co-chair of Business Leaders for Transportation. In short, MPC advocates for smart growth transportation initiatives.

Smart Growth What are smart growth transportation initiatives? Smart growth aims to improve and maximize currently underused transportation infrastructure - such as the railroads - to enhance the livability of a region. We all know that transportation dollars are in short supply, and there aren't enough funds to construct the projects on everyone’s wish list. Rather than lay costly and expensive new concrete in outlying suburban areas that will only serve a few people and create longer commutes and more congestion on our highways, smart growth projects optimize all modes of existing infrastructure that will benefit the whole region.

So, in essence, smart growth is the Chicago rail project known as CREATE (Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency). It will maximize the existing rail network to speed up the commute to work, for both car drivers and commuters on Metra. This will improve the livability of all people in the Chicago region.

CREATEThis morning everyone has heard the economic and environmental benefits of railroads, and the benefits of CREATE.

Today, the average Chicago area motorist spends 300% more time in traffic than they did 20 years ago. Much of this is caused by delays at railroad crossings. CREATE would build 25 highway to rail overpasses and underpasses, also known as grade separations, and six rail to rail separations to alleviate this problem. (Representative Davis, to answer your question from earlier in the hearing, 17 of these 25 grade separations are on the south and southwest side of the city, and Representative Yarbrough, to answer your question, three are in your west side district.) The construction of these grade separations would allow speed to increase to 15 mph from 9 mph within the city limits, saving shippers $40 million annually in reduced inventory costs. CREATE would save commuters 3,000 hours per day in lost time idling at railroad crossings. Metra commuters would also benefit, with $190 million in time savings. 17,000 jobs over the next two decades will created through CREATE.

One stat that I like to highlight is the fact that one freight railroad train carries the equivalent of 280 truck-worth of goods while saving three times the amount of fuel . With truck traffic projected to double in the next 20 years, it is imperative that we build overpasses and underpasses to increase the railroad speed across the region, which would encourage more freight to be shipped by rail. If the railroads and government fail to act and do not complete the CREATE project, then the Chicago region will be doomed to congested chaos, which will cause a loss of jobs and harm Chicago and Illinois’ ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Federal Financing for Rail
I hope you’ll allow me to delve into my past as a Congressional staffer in Washington to provide some insight into the federal programs on rail. I worked for 8 years for former Rep. Bill Lipinski, a senior Member of the House Transportation Committee, and, most recently, 18 months for Senator Durbin. Most of that time was spent working on transportation issues, on both the House and Senate authorization and the appropriation committees.

Unfortunately, there is no true federal railroad grant program. The main reason for this is simple – railroads do not contribute to the highway trust fund. However, Members of Congress are increasingly becoming aware that spending money on railroad modernization projects is often more cost-efficient than spending money on highways. Hence the $444 million in earmarks for rail projects of national significance in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU measure.

SAFETEA-LU did AUTHORIZE a $350 million annual Rail Relocation grant program, but it did not guarantee those funds with real highway trust fund money. Therefore, none of those funds have been allocated to rail projects around the country. The only significant real railroad money flowing to Chicago from the SAFETEA-LU bill is Rep. Lipinski’s $100 million earmark for CREATE.

While our federal representatives – namely Rep. Dan Lipinski and Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama – did attempt to secure funding for the Rail Relocation program in the FY 07 Appropriations measure, there simply is not enough gas tax revenue to fund already long-standing core highway and transit programs. Therefore, it will be difficult to fund the Rail Relocation program or secure additional railroad funding through the annual federal appropriations process.

Hopefully our federal legislators will try to secure guaranteed funding for a railroad grant program during the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU in 2009. But in the meantime, it is vitally important that the State of Illinois provide a $100 million match for CREATE in a future capital bill.

U.S. Congressional staff members have made it known that Committee Chairmen and Chairwomen are eyeing the CREATE program as a public-private test-pilot for dealing with highway and rail congestion, and that it is imperative that the State of Illinois match the federal and freight railroads’ contribution. Otherwise, if the state does not contribute, and significant progress is not made by 2009, Congress may not provide any additional earmarked funds for CREATE in the SAFETEA-LU reauthorization . In short, Congress has made it clear that the State of Illinois should pay its fair share to CREATE before designating any more of federal gas tax funds to the project.

In closing, I would like to thank Rep. Nekritz, Rep. Moffitt, and the other Members of the Committee for allowing me to testify today. I would be happy to answer any of your questions.

Thank you.

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