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Durbin, Business Leaders Frustrated With Transit Funding Deadlock

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) addresses a GOP House transportation bill that would dramatically cut funding for Amtrak and mass transit. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 03/26/12 – 2:46 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Road and mass transit construction projects nationwide could begin grinding to a halt next week unless a deadlock over funding is broken in Congress, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is getting impatient.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, the U.S. Senate passed the roads and transit bill 78-22 two weeks ago, but Durbin said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has ignored it.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

He concedes that a 90-day stopgap measure is looking more and more likely, but said that would be little better than no bill at all.

“Imagine if you’re about to let a contract,” Durbin said. “All you know that is for 90 days it’s going to be funded. Most companies will walk away from it saying they just can’t do that — too much uncertainty.”

He said that means major road and transit projects “will just be stalled and stopped.”

Regional Transportation Authority director Joe Costello said Chicago area mass transit systems would start losing $1.2 million a day in federal funding for new buses and bridge rebuilding programs, if the deadlock in Congress isn’t broken.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Without that funding, Costello said work will grind to a halt on railroad bridges and signals, and replacing mass transit fleets.

“I feel like we are the passenger in a car of a game of chicken; and that is no way to treat the roads and public transportation in America,” he said.

Costello joined Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, in urging citizens to pressure lawmakers to pass the Senate transit bill, or at the very least a stopgap measure until a long-term transit agreement can be reached.

“I find it hard to believe that Congress wants to have the nation’s transit infrastructure shut down, but that’s what we’re on the verge of seeing happen,” Whitley said.

Whitley is co-chair of “Transportation for Illinois,” a business, labor and transit coalition dedicated to forcing reauthorization of the nation’s transportation funding bill.

Whitley said, even though the Senate has passed a bi-partisan bill that continues funding for mass transit and road-building projects, the House has been unable to get together under the president and Republican leadership.

He urged voters and their representatives to pressure Congress into taking action to maintain federal transit funding.

The two-year, $109 billion surface transportation bill approved by the Senate would provide funding to repair crumbling bridges and roads nationwide and would preserve gas tax financing for mass transit repair and construction projects — transit funding an earlier House bill would have killed.

The lack of financing could have a serious impact on local road reconstruction efforts, including Congress Parkway and Wacker Drive, as well as mass transit projects that would include reconstruction of century-old bridges on Metra’s Union Pacific North Line.

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