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Federal Money For Bike Paths, Transit Projects Will Keep Flowing: Quigley

By Alex Nitkin | April 3, 2017 5:21am
 U.S. Rep Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) toured four bike paths being built on the Northwest Side Friday.
Quigley Vows To Keep Federal Money Flowing For Bike Paths, Transit Projects
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SAUGANASH — With $1.3 billion in federal funding hanging in the balance, the city's leaders are weighing how seriously to take threats from President Donald Trump that he'll choke off the source of 14 percent of Chicago's budget as punishment for its renewed "sanctuary city" status.

But it's ultimately Congress, not the president, that maps out how U.S. tax dollars get spent. And as long as Chicago's elected legislators have seats in Washington, it won't be easy for the Trump administration to dry up the millions in federal dollars pouring into transportation projects all over the city.

That was Rep. Mike Quigley's (D-Chicago) message to local agencies Friday when he toured four bike trails under construction on the city's Northwest Side, all of which are leaning on on millions in federal grants for completion.

As a member of the House appropriations subcommittee for transportation, Quigley holds a lever for the more than $19 billion that Washington doles out for transportation and infrastructure projects every year.

And with rail services like Metra extending deep into the suburbs and rural regions of the country, even Republicans are primed to keep the money flowing, Quigley said.

"Everything is connected, so you can't just live in a Trumpian world and be an isolationist when you're managing government by congressional district or by city," he said. "The mentality that you can cut off one area to punish a policy just doesn't work in the real world ... it's cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Quigley represents a large chunk of the city's North and Northwest Side, along with a few western suburbs.

City transportation officials on Friday led the congressman through the Ravenswood Manor Greenway, the Addison Street Riverview Bridge and the Weber Spur trail, all paths set to be ready for joggers and cyclists later this year.

The Weber Spur, a long-defunct rail line bisecting Sauganash and the Labagh Woods, is being paved as a way to create a safer and more direct route for bikers to get Downtown from the Northwest Side. The rails-to-trails project is paving a 1.3-mile path stretching from Devon Avenue to the Elston Avenue in Mayfair.

With younger city-dwellers increasingly shirking car ownership for a two-wheeled alternative, it's up to planners at every level of government catch up, Quigley said.

"We didn't build the modern country to be bike-friendly — our initial round of infrastructure was not designed to think about how to get around if you're not in a car," he said. "So we've got to be targeting resources, both nationally and locally, to how people are going to get around in the new world."

Quigley's tour ended with planners for the Cook County Forest Preserves, who led him along a 3-mile extension of the North Branch Trail that promises to welcome riders by this summer.

Officials last year cut the ribbon on the 1.8-mile first stage of the extension, which begins in downtown Edgebrook and ends near the Forest Glen Metra station. The second stage will cut a path underneath Cicero Avenue and the Edens Expy., ultimately extending the trail to the intersection of Foster and Kostner avenues.

With Washington footing 80 percent of the bill for the trail extension, federal funding is a "huge" part of how county foresters build and maintain their infrastructure, according to Pamela Sielski, a landscape architect for the agency.

"The Forest Preserves have over 300 miles of trail and master plans for future trails, so future appropriations are going to be really critical in making all of that happen," Seilski said.