Daily Dirt

Illinois Leads Nation In Stimulus Funds And Projects

Illinois’ long-dysfunctional government ultimately helped the state gain quick approval for a large share of federal stimulus money to fix roads and bridges, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Sunday.

Last week, Governor Pat Quinn announced the U.S. Department of Transportation says Illinois received funding approval for 249 projects worth $606 million that state officials say could generate 9,000 jobs. Illinois is getting more stimulus money for road and bridge projects than any other state, officials at both the state and federal level have said.

LaHood, a former 14-year congressman from Peoria, IL was the first Republican that President Barack Obama selected to his Cabinet. LaHood said “there is no favoritism” involved in the distribution of federal money, but instead said it was based on a long-standing formula for allocating highway funds to the states.

LaHood acknowledged the statehouse infighting that prevented a public works plan from being approved during former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s six-year tenure left many projects meeting the federal government’s “shovel ready” requirement. Lawmakers did not trust the now-ousted governor to fairly run a major construction program.

“These projects have been sitting on a shelf, ready to go because the state could never pass a capital budget,” LaHood said, adding that other states also had long-standing delays in approving public works plans.

The stimulus money will go to projects all over the state, LaHood said, crediting Blagojevich’s successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, and Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) acting secretary Gary Hannig, for moving quickly to secure funding.

LaHood also touted expectations for Illinois’ role in $8 billion of federal stimulus funds being earmarked nationally for high-speed rail development in selected corridors across the nation, particularly with Chicago serving as a proposed rail hub for routes to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit.

Looking at the possibility of developing trains moving in excess of 200 mph, LaHood compared the creation of high-speed rail networks to the construction of the Interstate Highway System launched by the Eisenhower Administration, which revolutionized the way Americans traveled.

High-speed rail, LaHood said, will be Obama’s “transportation legacy.”

Greg Sitek

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