SPRINGFIELD - The Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes new investments in air and rail passenger service, ensuring public transportation options remain viable throughout Illinois. Under the new state budget, funding to ensure Amtrak service in Illinois would increase to $24 million and the I-FLY program would receive $1.6 million to bring new regular passenger service to Quincy, Decatur and Marion.
“In many of the communities served by Amtrak, passenger rail is the only option for public transportation,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “I’m proud that we were able to keep our commitment to maintaining passenger rail over the last three years. And now this year, we were able to increase funding, and also start working with local airports to improve service and give their customers more options. Expanded Amtrak routes and I-FLY are just two of the many good things contained in the budget we just passed.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation contracts with Amtrak to ensure regular rail passenger service throughout Illinois. The current contract is for $12.1 million and supports service which includes one daily round trip between Chicago and Quincy, Chicago and Carbondale, and Chicago and St. Louis, as well as 7 round trips between Chicago and Milwaukee, which Illinois partners with Wisconsin to provide.
“When it comes to passenger rail service, Illinois is no longer The Little Engine That Could,” said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, (D-Evanston), who was the sponsor of the measure. “This funding increase will provide thousands of Illinois travelers with an affordable alternative to rising gas prices and greater highway congestion.”
“Reliable intercity passenger rail service provides numerous benefits for every region of the state,” said Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines). “I applaud Governor Blagojevich and the General Assembly for making additional Amtrak funding a priority in the budget.”
"Transportation issues are a priority throughout the State of Illinois and expanding Amtrak service is a sure win with benefits in reducing traffic congestion and its negative environmental impact, promoting tourism and economic development, and most importantly responding to the citizens of Illinois who need and want to travel the state. This was a strong grass roots effort with a very positive result," said Rep. Kathleen Ryg (D-Vernon Hills).
The increased funding for Fiscal Year 2007 would be $24 million for increased frequencies and to pay a greater share of the Milwaukee to Chicago trains. The State’s goal is to have one additional train on the Quincy and Carbondale lines and two additional trains on the Chicago to St. Louis line, pending contract negotiations with Amtrak.
“I already spoke with Amtrak’s acting President David Hughes several weeks ago and he indicated their support to make this happen and I want to thank Senator Durbin for his active role,” IDOT Secretary Timothy W. Martin said. “This is the first time in more than a decade that a Midwestern state has expanded Amtrak service, and puts us second only to California in terms of state operating assistance. We look forward to moving ahead with a new expanded relationship with Amtrak that will be more responsive.”
In addition to the expansion of Amtrak service, the new state budget includes $1.6 million for the I-FLY fund. I-FLY was established in 2003 to recruit and retain air service at Illinois’ downstate airports, but the General Assembly has never before provided funding.
“The I-FLY program will give our region a great competitive tool as we try to land good paying jobs for our people. Having direct flights to and from Chicago, which is a major hub for airlines that fly across the country and the world, gives our businesses an edge in landing those high wage jobs. By helping increase traffic at the Williamson County Airport, this program will help to encourage growth in all of Southern Illinois,” said Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton).
Under the program airports, would have to provide a 20% local match for the grants that could be used to:
· Guarantee an air carrier would receive an agreed amount of revenue per flight
· Guarantee a reduced or subsidized consumer ticket price
· Guarantee a profit goal by the air carrier or airport
“With the rising cost of gasoline, reasonably-priced air travel and passenger rail is more important than ever.” Sen. Sullivan (D-Quincy) said. “These vital transportation links provide an economic boost to the entire Tri-State region.”