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Biggert, Hultgren Make Case for Transportation Funding

The two Fox Valley Congressional representatives toured the Aurora Transportation Center on Friday, and argued for long-term funding for local projects like the STAR Line and possible Metra stops in Oswego and Montgomery.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to a 90-day extension of federal transportation funding, which would avert a shutdown of construction and repair projects nationwide. Senators are pushing two-year, $109 billion transportation bill to keep those projects going until early 2014, and are not expected to agree to the extension, the 10th of its kind.

But two years is not enough, according to Rep. Judy Biggert, R-11, and Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-14. Both believe that the country – and the Fox Valley area – needs long-term transportation funding, and would prefer to see a five-year bill land on President Barack Obama’s desk.

To emphasize that point, Biggert and Hultgren paid a visit to the Aurora Transportation Center on Broadway on Friday morning, joining Joe Costello, executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority; Tom Weisner, mayor of Aurora; TJ Ross, executive director of Pace; Mike McCoy, a Metra board member; and Tom Marcucci, Pace board member.

The Aurora area, Hultgren said, is a “hub for transportation,” but it’s faced with crumbling infrastructure and an inability to expand to meet demand without increased, long-term funding. Metra, for example, has about 500 bridges along its tracks that were built before 1930, many of which may need replacing soon, he said.

And beyond just making repairs, any plans to increase services would need that longer-term funding, Biggert said. That would include the long-gestating STAR line, which would provide suburb-to-suburb rail service, and the planned extension of Metra’s rail line to Oswego and Montgomery.

“If we want to be able to do anything more than shovel-ready projects, we need a longer bill,” Biggert said. 

The House's 90-day extension is considered by many to be a negotiating tactic, to get legislators into a conference committee for discussion on longer-term funding, according to this Washington Post story. It includes approval for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, another provision that could spell its doom in the Senate.

Hultgren said it is too early to tell what will become of plans to build a Metra stop in Oswego, and another in Montgomery in the future. But the commitment from Metra and the RTA is there, he said. In January, with Oswego Village President Brian LeClercq and Montgomery Village President Marilyn Michelini to inform them that a phase one engineering study on the Oswego station would likely go out to bid in May.

An Oswego station is likely still more than a decade away, and could cost upwards of $120 million. Oswego already has a popular park-and-ride facility near Orchard and Mill roads, established in 2005—the first step toward securing a station. And before leaving office, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert secured $75 million in federal funding for the project.

Any potential Metra stop in Montgomery is considerably farther out. Village leaders have designated a site for a park-and-ride and a future station—property on the current home of Lyon Workspace Products on North Main Street.

But Costello on Friday said that the RTA would be flexible with a potential sticking point for the Oswego station—namely, that Kendall County residents would have to approve joining the RTA by referendum, and agree to a three-quarters-of-a-cent sales tax increase. Kane County is already an RTA member.

Costello said the RTA provides service to several municipalities outside its membership area, and if Oswego residents find a different way to help cover the cost of a station, the RTA would work something out.

But Costello also emphasized the need for broader, longer-term federal funding before even talking about expanding rail service in the area. The plans are there, and Metra and the RTA are on board, but funding, he said, is “always the tough nut.”

“Metra and the RTA are already showing commitment, and that they’re open to different options, which is good,” Hultgren said.

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