Chicago-area transit leaders discuss wish-list projects in Biden’s planned $2 trillion infrastructure billl

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Chicago Department of Transportation rendering of the proposed North Lake Shore Drive transformation project

Chicago area transit leaders gathered for a Zoom call on April 5 to discuss what they would like to see regionally in President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Nationally, if it can clear the Senate through an amended reconciliation process and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin doesn’t gum up the works with his opposition to the extensive corporate tax hikes needed to pay for the ambitious scheme, the planned legislation would include $174 billion for electric vehicles, $115 billion on roads and bridges, $85 billion on public transit and $80 billion on railroads, including Amtrak.

Chicagoland wish-list projects include rebuilding North Lake Shore Drive, building a high-speed rail link from the Loop to O’Hare International Airport, and extending the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line to the southern city limits.

Crain’s Chicago Business also reported that transit chiefs discussed expanding support for electric vehicles, clearing traffic jams that retard freight trains, boosting broadband and rebuilding streets in South and West Side neighborhoods to cut pedestrians deaths.

House Transportation Committee member Rep. Marie Newman, D-Chicago, called the session to gather ideas for the “once in a century” opportunity to  put money into projects that often have been only dreams.

Of course, deciding on priorities won’t be a simple matter. Crain’s reported that every Illinois congressman has been invited to pitch 10 “earmark” projects of their own liking.

CTA President Dorval Carter said his agency would like to see funding of the Red Line extension and electrifying its bus fleet. “I have no shortage of projects I can put into any (member of Congress’) list” — with  $13 billion in deferred maintenance and related projects.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski would like to see separations at ground-level congestion points where Metra and freight trains intersect. Most of those programs are in the Create project that has received partial funding in recent years, Crain’s reported.

Derwinski said another priority is to construct a high-speed rail link from the Loop to O’Hare, connecting passengers in less than 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said she would like to see $1.5 billion in sidewalk and other work to help the disabled, replacing 400 miles of lead water pipes and dealing with an “existential crisis” of lakefront shoreline erosions.

Biagi confirmed that at least in part was a reference to plans for a $3 billion-plus rebuild of Lake Shore Drive north of Grand. She also advocated for the city’s Vision Zero project to build protected bike lanes, add pedestrian islands and otherwise redesign streets to better control auto and truck traffic, Crain’s reported.

Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell called for repairing dilapidated bridges and roads, expanding broadband and incentivizing construction of more electric vehicles such as Rivian’s plans in Normal.

DeFazio did not indicate how the wish lists would be prioritized—or whether the Senate has agreed to go along with them.

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