Illinois officials urge investing in transportation infrastructure

Champaign-Urbana residents talk about transportation concerns with state representatives.

State officials want Illinois to invest in more transportation infrastructure, despite budget cuts.

The Illinois Infrastructure Listening Tour began Monday with a meeting hosted by the Champaign Chamber of Commerce. They discussed the Champaign area’s main concerns for the future of its transportation system and potential areas of investment for infrastructure.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn is conducting a series of discussions in various parts of the state. He hopes the discussions will lead to a package of recommendations to be presented to Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly for consideration in the spring, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The tour will visit 28 cities in Illinois and encourage audience suggestions to better cater to each community’s needs.

“We are calling it a listening tour for a reason. We are traveling the state discussing needs, discussing issues, discussing what matters to you,” Blankenhorn said. “We think about how infrastructure makes a difference in your community, makes a difference in our economy, makes a difference in business and makes a difference in the lives of the people we represent.”

Blankenhorn facilitated the discussion between a panel of state and University representatives. The panel included state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-52, Rep. Adam Brown, R-102, Rep. Chad Hays, R-104, Associate Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo, and Clark Deitz, Inc. Executive Vice President Chip Craddock.

During the discussion, Brown said he is concerned about Rauner’s proposal to decrease Amtrak funding by 40 percent, or $16 million, but said there is still no certainty that the funding will be eliminated.

“It shows where the priority is of the Rauner administration. We invest in infrastructure because it creates jobs and actually grows the economy,” said Sen. Rodney Davis, R-13. “That is exactly what Bruce Rauner has said he was going to do.”

DeLorenzo said the University plays a major role in transportation within the state of Illinois. The University facilitates one of 80 public airports in the state and regularly charters thousands of students and faculty members to and from the Chicagoland area.

“The idea of transportation choice is necessary for us to attract the millennial generation, the workers, they want a certain type of community, they want a certain kind of lifestyle,” Blankenhorn said.

He said there are transportation policies in place but they need to be enforced in “bigger and better” ways. Additionally, he said transportation is not limited to human travel and freight moving through Illinois is increasing by almost 40 percent.

“You may not have a car, but the TV is getting to you somehow,” Blankenhorn said. “You might not drive, but somehow you’re getting food to the market.”

DeLorenzo said the TIGER Grant is a good example of how leaders of the community can work toward transportation progress.

Blankenhorn said there is a necessity for connections with the major businesses in Chicago, Peoria, St. Louis and Indianapolis, and with a stronger transportation program, Champaign would be able to make those connections. He also said that this year’s program consisted of $1.8 billion for trains, while another billion dollars went to transit, airports and rails.

“This is a place where transit works pretty well for a small town, so how do we invest in that?” Blankenhorn asked.

[email protected]