Illinois Public Media News
A 5-year old mass transit district that started up to keep Champaign-Urbana's MTD from expanding could take some time before asking its voters what level of bus service they want, if any.
Board members with the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District suggest they may wait until November 2012 to place an advisory referendum on ballots. Southwest MTD chairman Ed Vaughan says its board needs the time before then to come up with an education campaign.
"And it makes more sense doing it then because you get a bigger turnout at the election, and we get a much larger sample of our electorate by using the November election," he said. "So we're able to hear what they want."
At Monday night's Southwest MTD board meeting, Vaughan cited a recent meeting with about 80 residents of the Lincolnshire Fields subdivision. He says two people indicated they want more bus service, while 25 said they wanted none. The Southwest MTD board Monday night delayed a formal vote on the referendum, as well as its tax levy ordinance until December. Vaughan says it's possible that levy could go down, since its primary expenses have been legal, and that fight is over.
The Southwest MTD was left in limbo after Illinois' Supreme Court last spring refused to hear its legal battle with the Champaign-Urbana MTD, saying both transit districts could co-exist. Meanwhile, there's still a chance the two could contract service together. A letter to Vaughan from CU-MTD manager Bill Volk says a specific proposal would be needed for any additional services. And he says whatever service the CUMTD would provide would need to be 'in concert with the adopted Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study's Long-Range Transportation Plan' (CUUATS.)
The Southwest MTD Board meets next December 8th.
Work on the John Street storm sewer project in Champaign means motorists will have to take a detour when using Prospect Avenue, starting next week.
Prospect Avenue will be closed at John Street for three weeks, starting Monday, Nov. 14, so that a section of the new sewer can be installed. Champaign City Engineer Roland White said the scope of the work requires a complete closure of the street.
"We looked at this early on, and we determined that with the depth of the excavation being some 12-to-14 feet, 9-foot diameter manhole being installed, with large heavy equipment moving around, that the complete closure of the intersection was the safest and fastest way to get the work complete," White said.
Detours will be marked during the closure --- using Neil, Mattis, Springfield and Kirby Avenue to get motorists around the street closure on Prospect. White said he hopes motorists will avoid residential streets when driving around the closure on Prospect.
This is the last work on the John Street sewer project to be done this year. White saod the street will be clear through the winter, and work on the sewer will resume in the spring.
Chicago-based Boeing announced new plans on Monday to build space shuttles for people and cargo. Boeing will build reusable capsules that can take up to seven people into space.
Ever since NASA's space shuttle program ended, the U.S. has been relying on Russia to get to the International Space Station. Boeing's new program is expected to provide another way to get there.
Morningstar analyst Neal Dihora said Boeing's space technology accounts for about 13 percent of the company's sales this year.
"With the space shuttle shut down, they were going to see some exits or decreases in revenue and this actually helps them over a longer time frame," Dihora said. "But it's not really that big of a material difference for the entire company as a whole."
Boeing will lease a former shuttle hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The project is expected to create more than 500 jobs by 2015. More than 4,000 space-related jobs have been lost in the Cape Canaveral area.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says federal support for Amtrak service should be preserved.
Speaking Monday afternoon at the Illinois Terminal Building in Champaign, Durbin said an appropriations bill introduced by House Republican would slash Amtrak funding by 60 percent, and eliminate 1,800 jobs in the state. Durbin urged lawmakers in Washington to maintain Amtrak funding, saying it is critical to the state's economy.
"We are not going to cut everything at the federal government level," Durbin said. "There are some things that we're going to even increase. I think when it comes to transportation infrastructure that's the last place we ought to cut."
Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper said with ridership up over the last decade, now is not the time to cut funding for passenger rails.
Meanwhile, Durbin said the Republican spending bill would also force Amtrak to eliminate a route that passes through Champaign from Chicago to Carbondale. With many UIUC students originally from the Chicago area and many other faculty members who travel to Chicago for meetings, U of I President Michael Hogan said Amtrak is a necessary service for the university community.
"Taking the train into Union Station and back here at the Illinois Terminal is much more than just a convenience," Hogan said. "It also means hundreds if not thousands of fewer cars parked around our campus. "
The University of Illinois is researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line for 220-mph trains between Chicago and Champaign. The spending bill introduced by House Republicans would provide no money for high-speed and intercity rail projects.
"Faster trains could hold the power to bring a new twenty-first century wave of prosperity, and to address concerns about fossil fuels and the environment, highway congestion, and the security related inconveniences of air travel," Hogan said.
Sen. Durbin has pushed an amendment to restore $100 million for high speed and intercity rail, which he said wouldn't require additional revenue.
Durbin also talked about President Obama's $447 billion jobs plan. Last month, the president announced the measure, which would be supported by tax increases on the wealthy. Senate Republicans blocked efforts to pass the full version of that legislation.
Still, Durbin said one aspect of the bill that could still have a chance at making it through Congress seeks to modernize the nation's schools, with about $1.1 billion going to Illinois and supporting as many as 14,500 jobs in the state. He said that would help schools - like the John Hills Magnet School in Decatur - that are struggling to make necessary upgrades.
"It has an old heating system. It has no air conditions to speak of. It has asepsis issues. The list goes on and on," he explained. "The president pays for this by increases taxes on those making over a million dollars a year by one half of one percent, and unfortunately we can't get a single Republican to vote for it."
A bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress has until Nov. 23 to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings. Critics have expressed doubt that the bipartisan panel will overcome its stark political differences.
Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed a new leader for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Quinn on Monday named Ann Schneider to be secretary of the state transportation department. Schneider has been acting secretary since July and previously was chief of operations for the department. Schneider also was chief fiscal officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
The governor also named John Holton as director of the Illinois Department on Aging.
Quinn also made other appointments, including Jim Larkin as acting director of the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Stolfi as acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance and John Kim as interim director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
A taxi service owner in Decatur says he plans to sue the city for shutting down his company.
Last week, City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet. Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus confirms the cab service was shut down last week after violating city codes.
"The decision to revoke the license was based on the operation of unlicensed taxis," he said. "The city is responsible for licensing taxi services. It was decided that taxis were operated without a valid license, among other things."
AOK Taxi owner Anthony Walker said those allegations don't stack up, and he said he is determined to get his company's license back through a federal lawsuit.
"I know for a fact, 150 percent sure, that I can actually go in and prove every allegation was unfounded and there was no merit to it," Walker said. "With that being the case, I need to do that because my creditability and who I am as a business person in this community, I need to do that."
The city had contracted with Walker's company to provide a pick-up service for people who need help getting to a physician or bus stop.
Tyus said the Decatur Public Transit System will now run that program, but he said AOK will still be able to operate its livery service. The city also claims that a number of other vehicles couldn't be on the street because of technical issues.
Losing taxi service in Decatur is nothing new. And a bar owner in the city says it's come to the point where some sort of collaborative effort is needed to give rides to patrons.
Kim Miller co-owns the Bourbon Barrell, which is located near Millikin University. She said patrons have started to complain since learning that AOK taxi has shut down.
"Our cab situation in Decatur has been ongoing for years," Miller said. "We've had companies come in, they do ok for a while, and then they're gone. I don't know if it's just that we don't have enough customers to keep it going. Because obviously, it's just not bar customers. Other customers just need to do their day-to-day activities."
Miller said there needs to be some serious discussions with other owners and the city about offering some sort of shuttle service.
She says AOK network is offering a $10 shuttle service to or from anywhere in the area. But the company only offers a few vehicles, and Miller said its status is uncertain given the problems with the taxi company.
Bourbon Barrell used to provide free rides to some patrons who were in no condition to drive, but Miller said that's no longer feasible.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Ford union autoworkers have approved a new four-year contract that's expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Chicago region.
At first, it didn't seem like a slam dunk deal. Many workers complained the new contract reinforced an unfair two-tier payment system with part time workers doing the same work as full-timers and getting paid substantially less. The new contract included profit-sharing in lieu of pay raises, and many living in expensive metropolitan areas like Chicago wanted a cost of living pay increase.
Chicago's union workers were so against the contract that 77 percent of the South Side assembly plant voted against it last week; 70 percent at the Chicago Heights stamping plant did the same.
But as big 'yes' votes came in over the weekend from major facilities in Michigan and Kansas City, the scales began to tip tellingly in favor of the contract. Workers in Louisville, Ky., approved the agreement Tuesday, according to a post on the Louisville local's Facebook page. That was the last large local to vote, and it ensures the agreement will go into effect.
A final tally was not immediately available from the UAW Wednesday morning.
Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies at Cornell University, said he's not surprised at all in the variation between plants on the vote. He said typically in votes for or against a contract, a local union leader holds a lot of sway.
Regarding the case of the Chicago plants' rejection, he thought it could go deeper.
"It could be that there are tensions in the facility and the vote reflects things other than the workers particular view towards the terms of the agreement. There may be bad relations between the current plant manager and workers, or between supervisors and workers. So workers less happy with situation will be more likely to vote against a contract," Hurd said.
The UAW represents approximately 41,000 hourly and salaried workers across 27 Ford manufacturing and assembling facilities in the United States. Now that the vote is in, the new four-year contract will begin moving forward. According to a UAW press release, it includes adding 5,750 new UAW jobs.
"These new UAW jobs mean more than 12,000 new jobs in total with jobs previously announced by Ford," said UAW President Bob King.
Chicago's two area plants are expected to reap 2,000 new jobs out of the deal by 2015. The agreement also promises $16 billion Ford is investing in new and upgraded vehicles and retooling plants.
A signing bonus for workers comes in at $6,000 dollars, which according to Hurd, is a big figure in these days of a depressed economy.
Now that the contract is approved, local unions will continue work on bargaining on behalf of individual plant agreements.
An expert on the operation of airports says forming a local authority with funding by local taxpayers might be one way Willard Airport can cut costs.
Jack Penning, who's with Portland-based Sixel Consulting, is laying out this and other options that don't include the University of Illinois. He made his suggestions Tuesday before the annual meeting of Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation.
Penning said Willard simply doesn't compete well with other nearby airports, largely because it doesn't involve the community, whereas Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is under the guidance of a local airport authority, and involves local property tax dollars.
"Because of that, there's a lot more community input into how the airport is run, because it's your neighbor running the airport," he said. "The airport here is run by the (U of I) Board of Trustees, which doesn't have single member from Champaign County outside of a student trustee. And so the people who use the airport, the people who live in Champaign County, really have very little say over how it's run."
Penning said in Bloomington, airlines pay about $1.50 per passenger, while they're paying more than $9 a passenger at Willard. He said the big difference is property taxes in Bloomington, as well as the U of I's wages and benefits to those who work at Willard.
Seamus Reilly co-chairs the EDC's airport committee. He said each of the consultant's suggestions offered greater possibilities for Willard.
"It's not so much that one or other governing structures is necessarily superior, but I think what came through was the fact that some of these other airports have a much stronger funding platform," Reilly said. "In other words, that they have money available and resources available to help develop the airport to move it forward."
Penning said the airport also has the option of being made part of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, being operated through the Regional Planning Commission, or Willard could be operated by a private management firm. He didn't endorse one of the plans for Willard.
Penning's final report on Willard should be available for public review in about a month.
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.
On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.
"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."
For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.
Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:
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