Serving the Goreville & Lake of Egypt areas since 1977

 

Transportation Bill determines dollars to Johnson County

Posted June 27, 2012 by Joe Rehana in News

A Southern Illinois Stone Company employee begins an evening shift at the stone quarry, located just three miles south of Goreville, while in Washington members of the House debate the Transportation Bill’s reauthorization before it expires June 30.

As the countdown draws nearer to the current Transportation Bill’s expiration date of June 30, Johnson County’s stone quarries wait on the edge of their seats while members of the House debate its future and inevitably their ability to maintain employment at current levels.

On Monday, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the House-Senate transportation bill committee, issued a statement urging the House to pass the reauthorization bill before it expires.

“The current lack of federal commitment to infrastructure translates to fewer jobs and future uncertainty for important projects in our state just as we approach the peak of construction season,” said Durbin. In March, the Senate passed its version of the bill 74-22 and Durbin said in this format the bill would create and protect millions of jobs nationwide, including more than 67,000 in Illinois.

Southern Illinois Stone Company sits just three miles south of Goreville and it, along with Shawnee Stone in Cypress, are area operations at the foundation of what the Transportation Bill means to Illinois’ economy. Stone mining provides the core materials required in building the infrastructure America depends on to move goods and services. Since 2005, transportation policy has operated with short-term extensions as Congress has failed to pass funding or finish negotiations on a longer-term bill, which would allow states’ departments of transportation to plan projects and ultimately bring funding and job security to Illinois from the foundation up.

In an email to the Gazette Monday, Congressman John Shimkus, R-Ill.-19, said Illinois would likely receive between $1.37 billion and $1.47 billion per year depending on the final formula used. The Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion bill in March and it is uncertain what, if any, of that bill will remain. As recently as last week House Speaker John Boehner suggested another six-month extension of the current bill.

While in Johnson County stone quarries and construction companies alike await the outcome of the transportation reauthorization bill, a little closer to home is the Safe Routes to School program, which Goreville Community Unit School District #1 was awarded $247,000 in grants from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) through federal funding.

According to a report filed Friday by DC.Streetsblog.org, a website which focuses on information about sustainable transportation, Boehner said, “the House wants to pass a bill that includes real reforms, to ensure that taxpayer funds are paying for legitimate projects that support economic activity, not planting more flowers and beautification projects around the country.” DC.Streetsblog.org’s Tanya Snyder argued this language amounted to the “House dismantling the Senate transportation bill’s provisions for street safety programs, which are funded from the same pot as scenic beautification projects.”

“The GOPs true target, the Cardin-Cochran amendment, gives local agencies control over funds from programs to make streets safer for walking and biking, including Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements,” writes Snyder.

It is uncertain what the outcome will be until either the deadline or the bill passes in House, said Josh Kauffman, an IDOT spokesman, in a phone interview with the Gazette Monday. “We’re closely monitoring the legislation and analyzing its potential impacts,” he said.

While the Gazette did not ask Congressman Shimkus on whether or not the House bill would possibly strip funding for local programs such as the Safe Routes to School project, it did inquire if he supported a bill with a longer shelf life.

Congressman Shimkus said he would have supported a long-term bill and indicated that to members of the transportation committee; however, he was not ever able to vote on such a bill. Shimkus said if the only option presented to him is the six-month extension, he would vote for it to support keeping transportation funds flowing to projects.

Early last week committee members said they were committed to beating the June 30 deadline and pass a two-year bill. Johnson County awaits their decisions in hopes of continuing to lay the foundation that makes America’s infrastructure strong.