Thank you for the opportunity to present before you today. My name is Ryan Petty, I am president of the Rockford Il, Area Chamber of Commerce and the Rockford Area Council of 100, an Economic Development agency in the Rockford, Illinois area. I would like to thank all of the elected officials, and volunteers, for helping me prepare this testimony today.
I am here today to represent Northern, and Northwest Illinois in a collaborative effort to enhance the highway infrastructure in Boone, Ogle, Winnebago, Stephenson, Jo Daviess, and Carroll counties, bordered by the western Chicago suburbs and the Mississippi river.
The state of Illinois is located at the crossroads of America and is at the very heart of the nation’s transportation network.
Despite our geographic importance to the national transportation system, our state is suffering from a failing and incomplete interstate, and state highway system. The needs of our system are representative of the need for our state to have the financial resources it needs to upgrade that system.
Our Northern Illinois region is strategically located at a crossroads of the state of Illinois transportation system,.
We are part of three important highway corridors, the Interstate 90 corridor connecting Chicago with the Northwestern United States, the Interstate 39 corridor, a world class logistics center serving Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Madison, and Milwaukee, and US Highway 20, full of unrealized potential to connect Northwest Illinois and South Western Wisconsin to Iowa and the Interstate 35 NAFTA Corridor.
Our top regional transportation priority, United States 20 from Freeport to Galena Illinois is the final piece of a stretch of highway running from Chicago through Iowa connecting with I-35, a major north south artery in our country. It forms the final piece of the puzzle to allow for people and products to move efficiently and safely east and west through our region.
Some important Facts about US 20:
· Our region has pursued a 4-lane US 20 for the past 50 years.
· IDOT numbers show there are more than 2 million people using the present decrepit highway annually.
· More than 200 accidents occur every year on this stretch of roadway.
· Tragically, there have been dozens of fatalities over the past decades on the current US 20. One of those fatalities being the late Dr. Ruth Smith, President of Highland Community College.
· Galena, in northwest Illinois is one of the biggest tourist draws in Illinois after the City of Chicago and relies almost exclusively on US 20
· In 1991 the United States Congress approved funding for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is now completed.
· In 2002, local agencies, with the help of a professional consultant identified 14 regional initiatives to contribute to the economic future of the region. US Highway 20 is one of the 14. Officials from 5 counties, 4 in Illinois and 1 in Wisconsin have identified this project as a priority
A 4-lane US 20 will be a badly needed economic development engine to drive growth in our state and region.
The unemployment rates in our region as of January 2003 averaged 8.6 percent. Unemployment in the city of Freeport was over 10 percent, well above the state and federal average. Since 1998, our region has lost more than 8,000 well paying manufacturing jobs – almost 20% of our entire manufacturing base.
Both Congressman Manzullo and Congressman Lipinski have expressed support for the US 20 project. This is good news on the House side, We need your support in the Senate.
Along with US 20, congressman Manzullo has requested funding for three high priority projects which we support within Winnebago County.
The North Main Street project (Illinois 2) will widen a 6 mile stretch of this congested major thoroughfare to 4 lanes. It will ease traffic congestion, and perhaps more importantly, improve safety at a high accident intersection. This project has been on the books at the Department of Transportation for more than 30 years. Engineering work is complete and construction on this project could begin as early as 2004.
The West State Street (Business US 20) corridor reconstruction project will reconstruct and widen 4 mile stretch of state highway that is the western entry to the center of the Rockford Urban area. West State Street is one of four 30-year old entryways to the city of Rockford, this one serving our underdeveloped west side.
Recently, Winnebago County has completed a beltway project around the city, this beltway, coupled with the award of a HOPE VI grant shows that the City of Rockford And Winnebago County are committed to revitalizing this section of our community.
Congressman Manzullo has also requested engineering funds to remove a toll both on Interstate 90. The convergence of Interstate 90 and Interstate 39 creates significant congestion due to a poorly located 15 cent toll plaza. The bottle neck has been the source of numerous truck rollovers and has caused tremendous delays costing companies millions of dollars in lost time. To create further congestion, Union Pacific will open its new Global III Inter-modal Facility in Rochelle, IL this year, adding over 1,000 additional truck trips per day onto the interstate system.
Our state must have the funding it needs to solve these problems and we must make use of every federal resource to improve this infrastructure. Our congressman Manzullo has asked for each of these projects as earmarks in the upcoming legislation. The award of any earmarks must not jeopardize existing programs and state funding. That will not solve the problem. If our state and our region is to continue to contribute to the national economy, increase our share, and funding for projects of regional and national implication must be over and above the regular guarantee for general highway improvements.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to present before you today. The projects in Northern and Northwest Illinois are prime examples of how an investment in infrastructure can preserve jobs, even entire regions.