CAPITOL BRIEFS: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019

CAPITOL BRIEFS: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019

Illinois’ U.S. Senators advance bill to expand the Lincoln National Heritage Area in Illinois


On Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday, his home state’s two U.S. senators advanced a bill to expand the Lincoln National Heritage Area in Illinois.

Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a news release The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area Amendment Act, which passed the Senate as part of the Natural Resources Management Act, will add Livingston County, the city of Jonesboro in Union County and the city of Freeport in Stephenson County to the heritage area.

According to the release, this will increase economic opportunities for Illinoisans working to preserve the historic site and create new recreation, tourism and educational projects.

U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois’ 16th District, has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House.

“I am grateful to Senators Duckworth and Durbin for their efforts to pass this legislation, and look forward to working with them and the entire Illinois Congressional delegation to get this bill through the House of Representatives and signed into law,” said Looking for Lincoln Executive Director Sarah Watson.

The existing Lincoln National Heritage Area was established in 2008 and consists of 42 central Illinois counties stretching from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River. This bill would expand it to 43 counties and the communities of Freeport and Jonesboro.

Lincoln developed his legal career and participated in the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates in the areas added under this legislation.

The site generates approximately $260 million in economic impact, supports more than 3,000 jobs and generates $25.5 million in tax revenue. The release said the legislation would not add money to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.


U.S. senators announce more than $5 million to improve central Illinois rail speed, reliability

The Illinois Department of Transportation will receive $5,083,719 in federal funding to increase speeds and operational flexibility for passenger and freight rail services in Madison County, according to a news release from U.S. Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

The funding is for the Lenox Interlocking Reconfiguration Project and comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program.

“Dozens of freight trains used the old Lenox Interlocking System each day, slowing traffic and causing significant delays for rail and highway users,” Duckworth said. “This critical funding will help our state modernize the interlocking and relieve this bottleneck to improve reliability and bring local jobs to Madison County, while also updating our regional and national transportation systems.”

According to the release, IDOT will use these funds to reconfigure the Lenox Interlocking System in Mitchell, which is a critical gateway into St. Louis and a chokepoint on the Canada-US-Mexico trade corridor where four rail lines carrying 46 daily trains intersect.

The release said the project is estimated to reduce Amtrak trip times and freight train delays by more than two hours per day, which would also reduce gate downtime at a nearby grade crossing by two hours per day.


Brookfield Zoo to seek state help to pay for maintenance backlog

SPRINGFIELD – Officials from the Brookfield Zoo in the suburban Chicago area said Wednesday they will ask the state to help fund an estimated $260 million in needed upgrades and repairs as lawmakers consider a larger statewide capital improvements bill.

Backed by a coalition of environmental and education advocates, zoo officials said that without state funding, the zoo is in danger of having to cut back on its hours of operations and some of its educational programs, as well as raise the cost of admission.

Officials said the aging facilities, which date to the 1930s, have deteriorated, leading to leaky roofs and gas lines, failing electrical systems, potholes, buckled pavement and inadequate exhibits.

Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo, said the coalition will not ask lawmakers for the full $260 million. He said the zoo also receives funding from Cook County, philanthropic donations and revenue from ticket sales.

In 2004, lawmakers increased Cook County’s bonding authority to pay for other upgrades, but Strahl said that authority has been exhausted. The last capital bill, which lawmakers passed in 2009, included $17 million for zoo improvements.

Officials said the Brookfield Zoo attracts about 2 million visitors a year, making it the busiest ticketed visitor attraction in the state. About 80 percent of those visitors come from within a 50-mile radius of the zoo.


HUD awards $100 million for Illinois homeless programs

SPRINGFIELD – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded more than $100 million in grants to support more than 400 community-based homeless assistance programs across Illinois.

The grants are funded through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program. The money is distributed to community-based organizations that provide a broad array of services for homeless individuals and families, particularly those who are living in places not meant for habitation, people living in homeless shelters, and those at immediate risk of becoming homeless.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats, announced the grants Wednesday.

“The recent record-breaking cold temperatures felt across Illinois serve as a potent reminder of the importance of ensuring that all people have access to safe and reliable housing,” Durbin said in a joint news release announcing the funding. “This critical federal funding will help thousands of individuals and families across Illinois get back on their feet.” 

“Individuals across Illinois rely on investments like these to gain access to affordable and reliable housing, Duckworth said. “Having a safe place to stay is an important first step for families to move forward with their lives.”

Jeff Rogers

Jeff RogersJeff Rogers

Jeff has more than 30 years’ experience working for newspapers as a reporter and editor. He was the editor of daily newspapers in northern Illinois and Wisconsin before joining as Capitol News Illinois’ editor, where he oversees the news service’s development, growth and fundraising. He grew up in Lanark in northwest Illinois and has a journalism degree from Bradley University in Peoria.

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