Good Morning (Afternoon) Mister Chairman, Senator Durbin and Senator Fitzgerald. My name is Miguel d’Escoto and I am Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation. Chairman Inhofe, on behalf of Mayor Daley, I would like to welcome you to Chicago and thank you for taking time to travel to our City to discuss our many important transportation needs. I would also like to thank Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald for their hard work and efforts on our behalf.
As the largest retail, commercial and residential center in the Midwest, and as a principal transportation hub for the nation, the City of Chicago is a key economic engine for the entire country. A safe and viable transportation network is absolutely essential in maintaining and expanding the economic vitality of Chicago and assuring the timely distribution of goods and people throughout the city, region and nation.
The reauthorization of TEA-21 provides a unique opportunity for Chicago. As our nation’s third largest city, we take pride in our extensive transportation network and rely heavily on the federal government for assistance in achieving new goals as well as maintaining our network. Therefore, with the provision of adequate funding and the passage of appropriate policies, we look forward to this reauthorization bill as an avenue to strengthen and enhance existing programs while identifying new needs.
The most important issue for the City of Chicago is sufficient federal funding for transportation programs. Chicago’s transportation system, though among the finest in the world, is in need of constant maintenance, major rehabilitations and beneficial improvements. In order to assure that our system continues to provide safe, efficient and environmentally sound transportation to our residents, businesses and visitors, we need to partner with our State and Federal departments of transportation in securing the necessary funding for our projects.
First and foremost, Chicago, and other cities and states across the nation need significant increases in national highway and transit funding levels in order to meet our needs for rehabilitation and new capacity.
For the City of Chicago one federal program of particular importance is the Highway Bridge Program. Under TEA-21 the Discretionary Highway Bridge program was funded at $100 million annually nationwide with $25 million of that set aside for seismic retrofit. One bridge project alone in Chicago, the reconstruction of Wacker Drive, is estimated to cost $500 million: $250 million for the East-West segment that we successfully re-opened last November on time and on budget, and another $250 million for the North-South segment which we plan on reconstructing starting in 2004. Even without accounting for Wacker Drive, we have identified $573 million in unmet bridge needs in the City of Chicago alone. With more movable bridges than any other city on the world, Chicago is highly dependant on its network of bridges.
Another program of particular importance is the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. This vital program funds many of our pedestrian, bicycle and transit projects as well as the State of Illinois’ highly effective vehicle inspection and maintenance program. With more cities anticipated being eligible for CMAQ funding, we urge the Committee to increase the funding to a level that will keep existing recipients at their current or increased levels to meet our air quality needs.
The CMAQ program is a highly effective program, but it can be made even better. We support broadening CMAQ eligibility to include bottleneck elimination and traffic flow improvements. These types of projects can have a profound impact on congestion and air quality.
We also support CMAQ funding eligibility for the rehabilitation of transit stations in America’s older transit cities. We have encountered some difficulty in securing federal approval for regionally approved CMAQ projects for transit station reconstruction. By modernizing and improving these stations, we can make transit usage more attractive to many that currently do not utilize this energy-efficient and congestion-reducing mode.
And lastly regarding CMAQ, we urge you to remove the three-year limitation on funding for operations. The vehicle inspection and maintenance program has proven to be among the most effective programs for improving air quality. However, we are currently in the third year of CMAQ funding for this program and we have been unable to identify an alternate source of funding to date.
We also strongly support maintaining the firewalls. By doing so Congress will be guaranteeing that funds collected for transportation will go towards transportation improvements. The firewalls also allow government agencies to confidently plan ahead with the realization that the funding that is expected to be available for transportation purposes, will be available.
Lastly, freight rail is an often overlooked component of our nation’s transportation network. However, it is a critical component of that network, and one for which Chicago is not only the national hub but also the national bottleneck. A freight rail infrastructure program is needed to address this issue and to accomplish the numerous projects the City of Chicago is currently negotiating with the Class I railroads. It will increase safety at our nation’s rail-highway grade crossings and ease congestion on our railways and our roadways. A federal program for rail infrastructure would make tremendous improvements to this currently unacceptable situation.
During the reauthorization process I ask that you keep in mind the importance of transportation to our nation’s economy and the crucial role that the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago play in the national transportation network.
Thank you for your time.