Late deal swings funds for CTA line, Stevenson


By Mike Dorning

Date of Publication: May 23, 1998
Source: Chicago Tribune


WASHINGTON- Despite a deep cut in the share of federal assistance going to Illinois, several critical Chicago-area road and transit projects received major federal funding from a $204 billion transportation package Congress passed Friday.

After bargaining that left Republican members of the Illinois congressional delegation hurling recriminations at Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.), a last-minute deal produced a commitment for federal funding to finance fully acceleration of the Stevenson Expressway reconstruction so the project can be finished in two years rather than four.

The deal also should finance rebuilding of the badly deteriorating Wacker Drive in Chicago, transportation officials said, and it also earmarks $315 million for the projected $420 million cost of rehabilitating the Douglas branch of the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line. Some 30 percent of the elevated portion of that rapid- transit line currently is rated a slow zone because of the danger that would be posed to its weakened supports by vibrations from fast-moving trains.

Despite the good news for the local scene, with Southern and Western states now holding sway in the congressional leadership, the total funding package sharply reversed the previously favorable treatment of Illinois as a whole in federal transportation programs.

Beneficiaries of the transportation bill

The $204 billion transportation bill passed by Congress on Friday will provide funding for these major Chicago-area transportation projects.

Blue Line's Douglas branch rehabilitation

Stevenson Expressway reconstruction

Project cost. $420 million

Federal funding. $315 million

The tracks and deteriorating columns would be replaced. No timetable has been established, and the CTA has not decided whether it will shut the branch down during reconstruction.

Project cost. Needs $175 million of additional funding to complete the $567 million reconstruction.

Federal funding. $25 million earmarked. In a separate, last-minute deal, leaders agreed to fund the rest of the project using discretionary funding.

The state still has not determined whether it will begin work in 1999.

Brown Line station expansion

Wacker Drive reconstruction

Project cost: $310 million

Federal funding: The project has been authorized for funding, but must compete each year for appropriation.

Rail stations and platforms would be expanded to accommodate longer trains.

Project cost: $350 million

Federal funding: $25 million. In a separate deal, leaders agreed to fund the rest of the project using discretionary funding.

If the city can gain funding, the proposed project, which will renovate both the street's top and bottom decks, is expected to begin in 2001.

Chicago Tribune

With the package being financed by federal gasoline taxes, Illinois for the next six years will receive only 92 cents back in highway funding for every dollar motorists pay in federal taxes at the pump, according to a House- Senate report on the measure.

Under the previous six-year transportation package, Illinois was a net beneficiary of highway funding, getting back $1.03 in highway funding for each dollar paid in federal gasoline taxes, according to the same report.

Referring to the negotiations over the current deal, U.S. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "Little states, plus Texas, rolled the bigger states. And Braun wasn't there to protect us."

"Illinois got short-changed big time. And it wasn't because of what happened in the House," added U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.)

Reacting to those claims, Moseley-Braun shot back, "It's called the revenge of Trent and Newt," referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). "The Republican domination of the House and the Senate meant that they wanted heir states to get back more."

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Porter, the North Shore Republican, lashed out at Moseley-Braun for designating the $315 million in transit money "earmarks" for use on the Douglas branch lines rather than on various Metra rail lines.

As a member of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over public transit, Moseley-Braun was allowed to target that amount for priority use on specific projects.

Porter spokesman David Kohn called her designation of the entire amount for the Douglas line "a nakedly political move."

"The Metra lines are represented by Republican congressmen, presumably with more Republican riders," Kohn said. "All of the money at her disposal went to serve an 'L' line that serves fewer people."

Although three Metra lines and expansion of platforms on the CTA's Ravenswood Brown Line were authorized for federal funding in the measure, they did not receive any earmarks. Chicago officials and Democratic lawmakers contended those projects are better able to compete for annual appropriations on their own merits because of their increasing ridership.

They contended that, for now, the earmark for the Douglas branch was the best strategic use of the privilege.

Illinois might have fared worse in the final transportation bill but for a midday face-off involving U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-111.), a high-ranking member of the House Transportation Committee and other conferees, according to several Illinois lawmakers.

The sources said Lipinski, one of the members of the negotiating conference, at first refused to sign the panel report, which would have been an embarrassment. But he returned to the fold after he was allowed to insert in the legal record of the bill an assertion that Congress intended for bridge and highway programs that are administered by the U.S. Transportation Department to fund fully the Wacker and Stevenson projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and his Illinois counterpart, Kirk Brown, also committed to the deal, lawmakers and lobbyists said.

"We turned a deplorable situation into at least a satisfactory situation," Lipinski said.

As a result, the state Department of Transportation is now confident it will be able to begin the Stevenson Expressway reconstruction early in 1999 and complete it within two years, cutting down what was earlier predicted to be a four-year-period of traffic congestion.

Those commitments come on top of smaller $25 million earmarks contained in the legislation for both the Wacker and Stevenson projects.

Improvements on South Lake Shore Drive were earmarked for about $6 million; access improvements to the sprawling USX South Works steel plant site on the South Side, which the city is seeking to redevelop, about $7.5 million; a ramp from Cicero Avenue to the new Midway Airport terminal, $6.5 million; and a museum campus trolley project, roughly $3.5 million.

Overall, Illinois will receive $885 million a year in federal highway money, up from $682 currently, but the state's share of the national pot will decline to 3.38 percent from 3.76 percent previously.

Tribune staff writers Gary Washburn and Jon Hilkevitch contributed to this report in Chicago.