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Sunday, October 01, 2006

How to feed a district starving for infrastructure dollars

Print publication date: October 1, 2006
The Dispatch newspaper

How to feed a district starving for infrastructure dollars
By Andrea Zinga

Transportation systems are the arteries of a healthy economy, but we have fallen far behind: it'll take years of sustained effort just to catch up.
I am still driving the same miserable stretch of 136 to Carthage that I was growing up in Macomb.
Compare Quincy, population 40,000, to the Quad-Cities, a metro area of 300,000. Serving the metro Quad-Cities, we have the colorful, often inaccessible Arsenal Bridge. Quincy has the four-lane Route 336 to Carthage and two new beautiful downtown bridges, both put together through local efforts and neighboring officials.
The Quad-Cities' OTHER historic old girl: the Interstate 74 bridge. Now, I know bridges take time. Still, a five-year federal transportation bill just rolled around again. Congressman Jim Nussle brought back $50 million in earmarks for studies and work on the I-74 bridge: Congressman Lane Evans, $4 million.
Though I support legislation that would disclose all earmarks, I don't support eliminating them. The next congressperson is going to need that ability to improve on the 18 cents we get back here on every federal tax dollar. (Illinois, on average, gets 71.)
Galesburg is one of the nation's major rail hubs, eclipsed only by Chicago. But railroads don't like going into and out of Chicago because of the bottlenecks.
In Galesburg, a couple of million dollars has finally been earmarked to study putting overpasses at West and East Main and North Seminary streets. It could make Galesburg the most attractive hub, to the railroads, in the nation.
They've expanded the hump yard. What about a container repair facility? What about Galesburg as warehousing and distribution center, bypassing Chicago and getting the goods to areas nearer to us, more quickly? What about the Quad-Cities becoming one as well, in rail or trucking?
Mercer County has not one foot of rail. As the mayor of Aledo puts it, "I have a river I can't get to."
We have studied interesting efforts by small, private rail lines to buy up unused track, abandoned years ago by the big players, and convert it to short-hauling between farms or elevators and the river.
I support Amtrak. It's vital to the 17th.
Many remember the heartbreak of losing the Avenue of the Saints to Iowa.
The National Association of Railroad Passengers cites existing studies for a Railroad of the Saints, servicing the Quad-Cities, Macomb, and Galesburg.
As for "The River"... the Senate signed off this summer on WRTA, the $10 billion restoration project for seven locks, several of them in the 17th District!
It was only in 2004 after our campaign had gone to Quincy and called not only for expansion of the locks but for halving the designated timetable, that my opponent's office abandoned its two decades of opposing the expansion of the locks and the jobs it would bring to this district.
There are the crying needs of Route 34 ... or Route 51 farther south.
We are about to explode with ethanol and coal gasifaction plants -- that's a LOT of trucks.
Nowhere I go outside Rock Island and Knox counties can anyone remember meeting Phil Hare. I begin to see why the congressman seemed not to always know what was happening in the 17th.
High tech infrastructure -- any company today considering relocating will ask: "Can we access high speed Internet? What about cell phone service?"
Fortunately there are federal grants specifically for small and rural communities, IF they were aware of them, and IF a lot of federal red tape and delay is cut.
We can dream too. Galesburg, served by a high-speed train to Chicago -- it's historic beauty preserved as a mecca for a mix of young working professionals and retirees.
Or, the Quad-Cities ... united by an elevated train -- maybe cable cars over the Mississippi -- and with a railway station again -- a direct train to downtown Chicago.
First though must come the hard work of repairing our sagging, essential infrastructure. I am poised to be able to work with the speaker and all neighboring congressmen. I believe strongly in teamwork and cooperation.
Federal government should be more fiscally responsible in order to have the money to repair our national interstate system, to expand our locks, and to once again invest in public works benefiting many.
Meantime, a hard-working U.S. representative with her finger on the pulse of the 17th can do all she can to bring earmarks home. Not pork: bacon! How about the long-sought Colona Road extension? The possibilities abound.
Spending on infrastructure always more than pays for itself. I'll be working on it from Day 1.
Andrea Zinga of Coal Valley is a former television journalist and the Republican candidate for Congress in the 17th District.

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