VIENNA – During a stop today at the Johnson County Courthouse in Vienna, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed legislation that will enable the state to pump $10.7 million into several downstate mass transit districts to cover costs associated with service expansions and other operating expenses. These funds will enable working families from throughout the area to get better access to their jobs, homes and schools.
House Bill 2222 allows for new mass transit funding including $600,000 for the fledgling Shawnee Mass Transit District, putting it on sound financial footing and allowing it to move forward with plans to expand service. The district serves 60,000 people in Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties.
“Access to affordable and reliable public transportation is critical to working families today,” said Governor Blagojevich. “As gas prices continue to increase, they need a public transit system that provides them with affordable alternatives to get to work and school. These dollars will get them one step closer to getting that access.”
The additional operating assistance funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation can be used to pay for service expansions and other operating expenses.
“We applaud the Governor and the Legislature for what they have done,” said Ty Petersen, chairman of the board of the Shawnee Mass Transit District, which has been operating for three years without a stable source of funding. “Since we initiated our first ride three years ago, we’ve been struggling to keep basic routes open. This will make our finances sound and we will be able to open new routes and provide more service in an area that badly needs it.”
“This is an important investment in improving the quality of life for southern Illinoisans,” said state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg). “These grants will help us bolster our current transit system and help provide people with additional transportation options.”
“These are much needed dollars for mass transit in areas that desperately need transportation options,” said Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton).
HB 2222 not only supports the Shawnee Mass Transit District, but also allows the RIDES Mass Transit District that services nine counties along the Ohio River in southern Illinois to receive an additional $430,000 in the coming fiscal year. Also, the bill will provide an additional $230,000 to the South Central Mass Transit District that services six counties in southern Illinois, including the cities of Salem, Mt. Vernon, Nashville, Carlyle and West Frankfort.
"These critical funds will help to develop our regional transportation system and better link it to the state's infrastructure network,” said State Rep. Kurt Granberg (D-Carlyle). “Whether it's taking our children to school, going to work, or helping a senior citizen get to a doctor's appointment, it's critical that we have a diversity of transportation options available to people in our region of the state."
In addition to providing a spur to economic development, mass transit provides additional benefits in terms of reducing congestion on area roads and highways and cutting harmful emissions from automobiles.
Increased funding for downstate mass transit needs totaled $10.7 million in the fiscal year 2006 budget, which also includes a statewide increase of $330 million for K-12 education, an expansion of health care that will cover 56,000 more uninsured working parents and no increase in the income or sales tax.