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Officials, Labor Leaders Celebrate Federal Transportation Plan

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Labor leaders joined Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and U. S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in taking a victory lap on Friday to celebrate President Barack Obama signing the new $105 billion federal transportation bill.

WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports the measure pumps more than $4 billion into Illinois roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. Obama is scheduled to sign the measure Friday afternoon.

“This is a great day today,” said Schneider. “I’m very pleased that Congress and the president have established a solid transportation reauthorization bill that puts Illinois on strong footing going forward.”

Brad Schaive, business manager of Laborers International Union of North America Local 477, said the economic ripple effect includes not only workers spending their paychecks, but also work being done before the new roads are built.

“This highway bill is an economic engine. A typical project could have between 5 and 75 men and women of your local communities,” he said. “As they work on this project, they take those monies from the living wages they make on those jobs, and they go out and they spend it in their community.”

Mike Zahn, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 965, said “from Cairo to Chicago, there are double-digit unemployment numbers. This bill will produce 140,000 jobs over the next two years.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports

Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) were part of the conference committee to work out the final bill.

But Durbin was disappointed the bill did not include funding for Amtrak projects.

“I think there should have been resources available, for more on-time performance. We have dramatic increases in ridership on Amtrak. We’ve seen a lot of construction associated with high-speed rail in our state. I wish they would have continued it, but we weren’t successful,” Durbin said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation plans to bid out 60 projects next month, totaling $106 million. Projects include road improvements between Springfield and Taylorville, U.S. 51 at Assumption, and progress toward a new I-74 bridge at the Quad Cities.