President Joe Biden signed the historic $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law Monday, passing to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot — at the White House for the ceremony — the massive job of spending the billions in new money flowing to the city and state in the next five years.
For the first time, there will be a dedicated funding stream in the form of grant programs to make all transit and commuter rail stations in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a legislative victory for the champion of the measure, Iraq War vet and double amputee Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
Based on interviews with Lightfoot and Pritzker, expansion of the CTA Red Line from 95th to 130th Street, speeding up lead water pipe removal and rebuilding portions of the Eisenhower Expressway through Chicago and nearby suburbs, the I-190 turnoff near O’Hare Airport and I-80 in Will County have emerged as among the priority projects to be bolstered by the federal spending.
The federal funding will speed up some projects already in the works — removing lead water pipes in Chicago — jumpstart transit and highway projects stalled for years — while helping to bankroll large scale electric vehicle charging networks throughout the state.
In a Zoom interview with Chicago reporters, Lightfoot said the city is not yet sure of how much money it will receive, with some funding dependent on winning competitive federal grants.
Public transit expansion, lead pipe removal, expanding broadband internet access and creating a new support system for electronic vehicles are at the top of Lightfoot’s list.
“We’re anxious to get going as quickly as possible,” she said.
The city of Chicago launched its own program to remove lead pipes in residential properties last year. The federal funds, said Lightfoot, will “kickstart everything,” in “expanding the number of homes that we can reach” and shorten the time it will take to get the work done.
Lightfoot said there “definitely” will be federal money to expand the CTA Red Line from 95th Street to 130th, though she had no timetable yet for the project.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said at the White House he handed a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging him to support the Red Line South Side expansion to near the edge of the city.
“This transit desert disproportionately impacts Black residents, meaning that the early termination of the Red Line has considerable equity implications. This results in many of Chicago’s African American citizens literally being disconnected from the ‘mainland’ of the rest of the city. It reminds one of the ‘colony’ and the ‘motherland’ divides of a past time,” the Rush letter said.
The new law will pour $17 billion into Illinois for projects with the prospects of billions more from competitive grants.
In terms of timing, Pritzker, in a Sun-Times interview, said “We won’t see those dollars until the first quarter of the calendar year. So sometime in January, February, March.”
Illinois is in “an unusually good position” to move ahead with projects, Pritzker said, because the federal money will piggyback on the $45 billion ReBuild Illinois program the Illinois General Assembly approved in 2019.
“This money will help us accelerate some of those projects that are in our multiyear plan,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker cited as examples the road and bridge project on a 16-mile stretch of I -80 “in very bad shape” in Will County and the I-190 turnoff to get in and out of O’Hare. He said he backed rebuilding parts of the Eisenhower in Chicago and nearby suburbs.
The governor said he will soon sign a state bill to spur the electric vehicle business in Illinois, and the federal money will help build the “thousands of charging stations” Illinois will need.
Biden used the South Lawn signing ceremony to throw a spotlight on the bipartisan support for the infrastructure bill — a rarity in Washington — as he made a plea for more “compromise and consensus.”
“Folks, too often in Washington the reason we didn’t get things done is because we insist on getting everything we want,” everything, Biden said.
“With this law, we focused on getting things done. I ran for president because the only way to move this country forward in my view is through compromise and consensus. That’s how the system works. That’s American Democracy,” Biden said.
Former President Donald Trump has led attacks on the 19 GOP Senators and 13 GOP House members, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who voted for the infrastructure bill. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said everyone who backed the bill was invited to attend the signing. A Kinzinger spokeswoman said it “didn’t work out for him to attend.”
The new law provides for Illinois:
• $1.7 billion for drinking and wastewater infrastructure in Illinois
• $9.8 billion for federal highway projects
• $1.4 billion for bridge replacement and repairs
• About $4 billion for public transportation
• At least $100 million for internet broadband coverage across the state
• Approximately $616 million for airport improvements
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