Posted by Citizens Taking Action for transit and trains

Illinois still has not submitted its list of transit projects for stimulus money

State transportation officials vow to get moving on the application but don't fear losing any funds

| Tribune reporter

March 4, 2009

Illinois still has not officially submitted a list of shovel-ready road and mass transit projects to the federal government for funding under the economic stimulus package, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, warning that time is running out.

"The law requires us to get the money out the door very quickly," LaHood said. But "we have not received a list from the state or from Chicago."

State transportation officials vowed to get moving with the application process, but they expressed no concerns about possibly losing federal aid.

Mayor Richard Daley has been tight-lipped about disclosing Chicago's projects, other than to say he wants $50 million to push along the expansion of O'Hare International Airport. A mayoral aide said Tuesday that the city is "on track" to receiving stimulus funding.

The deadlines vary depending on the different modes of transportation. But the stimulus legislation aimed at putting Americans to work requires Washington to distribute funding to the states for highway, bridge and transit projects by March 10, which is 21 days from the law's enactment.

Illinois would not be eligible to receive any money until the General Assembly approves a special appropriation totaling $693 million to cover contracts for the first round of stimulus projects in the spring, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Once the money is spent, the federal government would reimburse the state.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with U.S. Department of Transportation employees Tuesday to emphasize the importance of helping states and local governments start their projects "once the snow melts," LaHood, a Republican and former congressman from Peoria, said in a telephone interview.

But none of the $935 million promised to Illinois, including about $429 million for transit, will be released until formal applications are sent to Washington and the proposed projects are approved as eligible for stimulus funding, officials said.

The transit projects must first be approved by the transportation committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which plans to vote on the projects Friday, said Diane Palmer, spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority. Then, the CTA, Metra and Pace must file applications to the Federal Transit Administration, she said.

"When Gov. Quinn was sworn in, I told him the importance of getting deadlines met," LaHood said.

Quinn on Friday named Gary Hannig, a state representative from Litchfield, to replace Milton Sees, who was IDOT secretary under ex- Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

IDOT will submit its list "after our public comment period closes at the end of business today," department spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said Tuesday.

State transportation authorities have met with officials from the Federal Highway Administration and "they do not believe we are at risk yet to lose anything," Kollias said.

In early February, Daley said he has a wish list of projects he wants funded. Unlike other leaders, however, Daley said he wouldn't tell the public because of concerns "the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart," he said.

The following week, Daley flew to Washington to lobby for the stimulus package. Before leaving, Daley provided a partial but vague accounting of what was on his list.

Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard said the city received assurances Tuesday from IDOT officials that there is no problem.

Tribune reporters Todd Lighty, Hal Dardick and Monique Garcia contributed to this report.

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