During the month of August, I’ve had the pleasure of traveling across Illinois to meet with constituents. I’ve visited some extraordinary communities and businesses that have allowed me to see, first-hand, the progress being made to improve our state.
Activating Thomson Prison
While I was in the Quad Cities, I joined Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials to announce Donald Hudson as warden of the prison. This announcement is an essential step in the activation of Thomson Prison. Hudson will be tasked with overseeing the facility renovations, hiring staff, community outreach and supervising prison operations. This hiring was all made possible through a federal allocation of $53.7 million that Congresswoman Bustos and I worked to include in the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill.
For those in the Thomson community, I know this has been a long, slow journey and I understand your frustration. But the warden’s hiring is proof that positive, steady progress in being made in order to get this top-notch facility up and running as a federal prison. The activation of Thomson prison remains one of my highest priorities. The thousands of jobs it will create, combined with its impact on local businesses, are important to the economic future of northern Illinois. Until we can safely reduce the size of our federal prison population, which I am working to do by reforming our federal sentencing laws, immediate activation of Thomson is necessary to reduce record overcrowding in federal prisons and help ensure the safety of prison guards and inmates. Along with Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, I will continue to fight for Thomson prison going forward. I will also continue working to ensure that all inmates – at Thomson and elsewhere – are treated appropriately and humanely.
Bringing New Business to Chicago Rockford International
I also spent some time in Rockford, a place where the federal government has stepped in to create jobs and grow local business. One of the ways this has been possible was through the improvement of one of the state’s premiere airports: Chicago-Rockford International. Over the years, I have fought tooth and nail for federal funding to improve the runways, taxiways and terminals at RFD. Why? Because these projects improve Illinois’ infrastructure, create good-paying jobs, and allow the airport to better serve Rockford’s local businesses.
I joined Chicago Rockford International Airport Director Mike Dunn and David Storch, CEO of Wood Dale, Illinois based AAR Corporation to announce funding for an exciting new project at RFD. The airport will be home to a $40 million state of the art commercial and cargo jet repair and maintenance facility. This facility will create hundreds of jobs in the region and spur local economic development. It’s projects like these which will bring important aerospace jobs to the state and solidify Illinois as a hub for business nationwide.
Addressing Amtrak Delays
Since coming to Congress, I have been working on the issue of safe, reliable Amtrak service in Illinois. Between 2006 and 2013 Amtrak ridership in Illinois grew almost 85 percent. In that same period, the ridership on the Chicago to Carbondale route grew even faster— by 117 percent. With 400,000 passengers using this route each year, it is clear we are experiencing a renaissance of passenger rail in Illinois.
I traveled down to Champaign to discuss an issue that has been bothering Champaign and downstate Amtrak riders. The Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale Amtrak route is now the least on-time train of any similar train in the country. When the trains are not reliable or on-time, it puts the progress and investments we have made towards Amtrak service at risk.
The main problem is freight train interference, particularly by Canadian National railroad. The company owns the tracks Amtrak uses between Chicago and Carbondale and have a long history of holding up trains and holding back investments that could improve passenger and freight service. In order to address this concern, I brought Dan Elliott, Chairman of the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), to Champaign to meet with local officials. The discussion was positive and we all agreed Canadian National must step up, work with the STB, Amtrak and local communities and make the changes necessary to improve passenger rail service.
A few days later I visited the Amtrak station in Carbondale with local leaders and SIU students who had expressed the same frustrations as those I heard in Champaign. I reassured them that one of the STB Chairman’s top priorities is improving Amtrak service in Illinois.
Then just this week, Amtrak filed a complaint to the STB asking for an investigation into Canadian National’s handling of passenger trains on the Chicago to Carbondale line. This complaint is the first formal case brought before the STB since they were granted the authority to enforce Amtrak’s right to the rails and on-time-performance in a 2008 bill I helped promote. , I asked the board to take quick action in investigating and remedying Canadian National’s interference with the Illini and Saluki trains. I stand fully behind Amtrak in this effort and will continue to keep a close eye on Canadian National. The Federal Government has invested too much into Amtrak to let it be disrupted by a company’s lack of cooperation.
Cleaning Up Waukegan Harbor
I also got to visit the Chicagoland area to celebrate a moment that has been decades in the making. Lake Michigan is one of the most beautiful natural resources in the state of Illinois. It is also the primary source of drinking water for more than 10 million people and the shoreline is home to 6 million people. The Lake brings 20 million visitors to the shoreline each year to swim, boat and fish. This tourism generates $3.2 billion every year and supports 33,000 jobs here in Illinois. However, the Great Lakes face many challenges – from invasive species to contaminated sediment and industrial pollutants.
Nowhere was that challenge more apparent than at Waukegan Harbor. For years, the harbor built up vast amounts of pollution and contamination. To reverse this near tragic circumstance, the Environmental Protection Agency invested over $150 million to clean-up the harbor. These federal funds were made available through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Superfund Programs, an initiative I’ve been an advocate of for a long time.
Today, the signs of successful work can be seen in the new fish populations coming to Waukegan. Dredging can begin again which will allow the harbor play a vital role in the Great Lakes transportation network that links many Illinois businesses to the global marketplace. This project is a great example of why I have worked to help secure federal funding to support these clean-up programs in my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lake Michigan is a treasured resource and we need to continue working to restore and preserve it so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Breaking Ground on Carpenter Street Underpass
Lastly, I swung by Springfield to lead a groundbreaking ceremony for a new underpass at Carpenter Street. This is the first significant portion of the larger Springfield Rail Improvement Project and was made possible by a $14.4 million TIGER grant from the Federal Government. The project will improve travel in and around the city, increase safety and drive job creation.
For decades, Springfield has waited patiently to see transportation studies and plans turn into actual work. I am happy to say that we are finally building. I will continue to look for ways to bring federal dollars back to Illinois’ capital city to spur economic development in the community.
Illinois is home to some amazing places and people. I look forward to visiting more areas in the state this month and highlighting the different ways our government is continuing to invest taxpayer money back to Illinois’ constituents and businesses.
Stay informed on what I am doing for Illinois and what is happening in Congress by visiting my website. If you have a question, a comment, or are in need of assistance, please contact my office at one of the phone numbers below or send"me an email.
Office phone numbers:
Washington, DC: (202) 224-2152
You can also follow me on these services:
If you did not sign up to receive this email or no longer wish to receive future updates, please click"here to unsubscribe.
Sent from the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin