Kirk touts public-private transportation concept
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com October 24, 2011 9:42PM
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk speaks at the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Tinley Park Convention Center in Tinley Park, Illinois, Monday, October, 24, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times
Updated: November 26, 2011 8:16AM
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is taking a page from an Illinois politician from the past when looking to future transportation needs.
Citing how President Abraham Lincoln pushed the largest transportation program in the nation’s history, the transcontinental railway, by using public-private partnerships, Kirk wants to take a similar approach to build new highways, rail lines and airports.
“In the middle of the Civil War, in which the federal government was borrowing everything we could to fund the expansion of the Union Army, the U.S. government did this (railway) almost entirely with private funds. It was the ultimate public-private partnership,” Kirk
Kirk touted his Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act at a luncheon meeting Monday of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce at the Tinley Park Convention Center.
Calling transportation and logistic “the heart and soul of our state’s economy,” Kirk said highways and rail lines are in drastic need of improvement.
“What a difference a century makes,” he said. “Until last year, public-private partnerships in Illinois were banned by state law. In other countries, it’s becoming a tremendous model for how to fund these (projects). I’d say it’s time.”
Federal transportation funding needs call for $225 billion through 2055 “but current spending is $90 billion. That’s a gap between need and what we’re actually spending,” Kirk said.
He said the federal gas tax of 18 cents per gallon no longer is providing enough revenue because today’s vehicles get better mileage. Kirk said he opposed raising the tax because “nothing is more regressive on the working poor.”
Rather, he supports private investment in public transportation, including a high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Chicago to St. Louis.
But Kirk did not include the proposed third major airport near Peotone as an example of private-public partnership until an audience member asked.
“Long term, we need a third airport,” he said, adding that Will County should control and operate it. “The only question is where is the money coming from. But the Lincoln Legacy Act does remove a number of barriers to public-private partnerships for airports.”
His legislation has been introduced in Congress. Kirk expects it to be discussed at length next spring, saying transportation bills tend to get passed during election years.