More road money for roads, finally
Good news follows good news from Washington, where some determined members of Congress have finally managed to pry the lid off the highway trust fund - to the benefit of both drivers and users of mass transit in Illinois.
The House and Senate have in recent weeks been working on a new version of a bill to authorize transportation spending for the next six years.
The Senate last week upped to $173 billion the six-year total to be spent on upgrading the nation's highways. This marks a $26 billion increase from an earlier version of the bill.
The change came about only because many lawmakers, led by Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Phil Gramm of Texas, challenged the strategy of spending less and leaving a larger balance in the highway trust fund, for purposes of making the newly found budget surplus appear even larger.
The increase in highway spending was the first piece of positive news for Illinois, whose ability to tackle several major highway projects depends on the availability of federal money. The second came Thursday, when the Senate agreed to boost spending for mass transit, from $36 billion up to about $41 billion over five years.
While it's too early to know which mass transit systems in Illinois might benefit, the increase has to be considered a victory for Midwest and Northeast industrial states, including Illinois, which have long put more emphasis on mass transit than have other parts of the country.
Another skirmish is expected to take place in Washington next week, as lawmakers from southern and western states, which are beginning to take an interest in public transportation, argue for a larger share of the new transit money. The Illinois delegation will need to be active in making sure that the state receives its fair share.
But even though the outcome of that debate is unknown, the Senate's decision to use more highway trust money for its intended purpose, to shore up the nation's deteriorating infrastructure, is one large step down the right road - or down the right track - depending on your preferred mode of travel. …