Dispatch-Argus: Bustos gathers ideas for infrastructure bill

By: Sarah Hayden

MOLINE — Hopes are high that Congress will pass a bill with federal money to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and rail systems.

As lawmakers work on drafting a comprehensive infrastructure bill, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, met with local transportation and community leaders to hear what their priorities are.

Gathered for a roundtable discussion Tuesday morning at MetroLINK’s Centre Station, Bustos asked the group which infrastructure improvements need to be a priority.

“What’s on your wish list?” Bustos asked MetroLINK General Manager Jeff Nelson.

“We’d like to expand our electric bus fleet and bring in 5G,” Nelson said. “For your rural communities, 5G is the direction we need to push.”

Bustos commended MetroLINK employees for their grant-writing abilities.

“If you want to see the best grant writers anywhere in this Congressional district, take a look at the folks at Metro(LINK),” Bustos said. “They are not afraid to ask, and they are very, very good at getting what they ask for.”

Bustos’ morning meeting was the beginning of a long day packed with events, including stops at an East Moline Walgreens and Handivan in Galesburg for “Cheri on Shift” stints, followed by a visit to Invenergy’s Bishop Hill III Wind Farm in Cambridge.

Since being appointed to the House Appropriations and Agriculture committees, Bustos has been working to secure financial support toward infrastructure in her broad legislative district, which includes the larger metro areas of Rockford, the Quad-Cities and Peoria.

Bustos was joined by representatives from the offices of Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.

“We are very much a team out in Washington, and as you know, when you get something through the House, you’ve also got to get it through the Senate in order to make something happen,” Bustos said.

Moline Public Works Director J.D. Schulte said Moline’s wish list included updating the I-74 and John Deere Road interchange to accommodate greater traffic expected when the new I-74 bridge is completed in 2021.

“One of the highest traffic counts of the Quad-Cities comes through that John Deere Road and I-74 exchange,” Schulte said.

With the anticipated arrival of passenger rail service, Schulte said the establishment of quiet zones limiting train whistles will help reduce sound pollution.

Moline officials estimate construction of quiet zones will cost $6 million to $7 million for upgraded warning devices to replace the loud whistle of an approaching train through intersections.

“I think those quiet zones are going to be paramount,” Schulte said.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded a $177.3 million grant to the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2011 for the design and construction of a passenger rail line between the Quad Cities and Chicago.

An extension was granted in 2017, giving the state more time to work on and fund the project. In the meantime, The Q multi-modal rail station and its adjoining Element Hotel are complete and ready for Amtrak passengers. All that’s needed now is the train.

Bi-State Regional Commission Executive Director Denise Bulat said her concern was “unstable funding and unstable transportation acts throughout the years.

“Should fuel taxes be indexed? Should there be user fees?” Bulat said. “It’s something that could sustain us from a transportation perspective. That helps our departments of transportation plan ahead.

“You mentioned rural communities,” Bulat said. “Bi-State serves communities as small as 200 in population. Almost every community we serve needs infrastructure improvements.”

Bulat said adequate wastewater systems were a challenge for smaller communities, while Bustos noted 60 percent of towns in the 17th Congressional District are populations of 1,000 or fewer.

Bustos introduced Scott Strickland, regional general manager with Consolidated Grain and Barge. She stressed how important river transportation is for commerce in the state.

Strickland said his company operated 11 river terminals in Illinois, six of which are in Bustos’ Congressional District.

“(Bustos) has more locks and dams in her district than anyone in Congress,” Strickland said. “Moline is here because of that (river) resource. We often take it for granted. The age of the infrastructure that we use for flood control and navigation is older than anyone in this room. We talk about taxes and fees, but the thing that actually brings revenue to this area is that river right there.

“Tell me what’s moving those barges — it’s corn and soybeans,” Strickland said. “We’re talking about 1,200 miles that product is able to move for less than one dollar a bushel. It’s a substantial differentiation in cost from rail or road. It’s a huge resource to this area. Two million bushels of grain are then moved through the Panama Canal to Asia. Within two months, we are connecting a good here to the table of someone in southeast Asia.”

“Ag is our biggest economic driver,” Bustos said.

Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce President Paul Rumler thanked Bustos for bringing everyone together for a productive discussion. 

“Having you in your position helps the Quad-Cities grow,” Rumler said.