Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its transportation bill. The bill is a blueprint for spending $265 billion on surface transportation over six years. It doesn’t include transit or rail provisions yet, and no funding source has been found for it. Streetsblog wanted to hear from a local official about how this bill would affect their community, so we spoke to Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, Illinois. Koos, who owns a bike shop in town, has served 11 years as mayor and is a member of Transportation for America’s advisory board.
Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, Illinois, says some measures in the EPW transportation bill will hurt small towns like his. Photo: B. Corbin/WJBC
As mayor, Koos has presided over big changes in Normal, including a revitalization plan that made Uptown Normal more walkable and anchored it around an Amtrak station.
I saw your panel here in DC in February, where you talked about the Uptown Normal Revitalization plan. And you said it couldn’t have been done without a strong federal partner. When you look at the bill that just passed the EPW committee, does that give you the strong federal partner you’re looking for?
I think it adds some things. We’re a community that’s too small to really take advantage of any TIFIA programs. And I don’t think it was in the bill, but anything that would give greater local input and control in terms of transportation dollars would be great.
In terms of TIFIA or in general?
You said Normal isn’t big enough to take advantage of TIFIA, but you have taken good advantage of TIGER. TIGER turns into Projects of National and Regional Significance in this bill, but the projects have to be $350 million or more. Remind me: How much was your revitalization project?
Well, the federal dollars we got — we got $22 million in a TIGER I grant, and we got about $7 million more in annual approps.
But what was the full project cost?
For Uptown Station? About $42 million.
Is there anything you can even imagine in your community that would meet the $350 million threshold?
No. The only thing I could see is a regional project. You know, when you get to dollars like that you’re pointing at highway or fixed-rail systems. I don’t even see that kind of money going to airports unless you’re O’Hare or LaGuardia or something like that.
Would that be a big loss, to see TIGER turned into something that had that such a high threshold?
Yes, I absolutely think so. If you look at the projects that have been funded over the past — what are we in, TIGER V now?
If you look at those projects, none of those projects would have qualified on that threshold as far as I can see. Most of the projects were smaller. The projects I’m aware of in Illinois and Michigan had to do with multimodal stations and rail upgrades — nothing anywhere near that threshold. A lot of smaller communities would not be able to benefit.