Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Department of Transportation is getting $186 million for its high-speed rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood awarded the money to IDOT on Wednesday. LaHood's office says the cash will be used to extend construction of the rail corridor to Joliet. That'll allow for 110-mph service along nearly 70 percent of the route.
Construction is already under way on the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor. Work on the extension to Joliet will begin this spring.
LaHood says the Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion to create high-speed rail service in the Great Lakes-Midwest region. He says the project will ultimately reduce travel times and congestion while creating jobs and increasing business opportunities.
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is trying to expand the use of technology for its riders.
That is why it has launched a competition for software developers to come up with applications that work on smart phones, desktops, and other devices. Karl Gnadt, who is the CUMTD's director market development, said more people are using this sort of technology to look up information about bus departures and arrivals.
"More and more are telling us that they don't use our schedule books, that they use the real time information," Gnadt said. "Typically, they'll get that on a mobile device. Though, often times they will use a computer as well."
The top three software developers will get a cash prize of $1000, $600, and $200, but Gnadt said all of the applications submitted will be in circulation on smart phones, desktops, and other devices.
"We think that the top three that the judges select are probably going to be the best of the bunch," he said. "So, I would think that those three would be the most popular and the most used."
Gnadt said there are currently about a dozen applications in circulation for CUMTD riders.
The deadline for the competition is Feb. 20.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has a request for the judge who is scheduled to sentence him next month. He's hoping it could lead to a lighter prison sentence. Blagojevich wants to play in court previously sealed portions of federal wiretap recordings. His attorneys filed the request on Thanksgiving Day.
Blagojevich's lawyers say he should be allowed to use parts of tapes as a way to argue that he deserves a lighter sentence. They say the tapes will describe Blagojevich's state of mind and "lack of ill intent."
The portions that the ex-governor wants played were blocked from being heard at his trial last June when he was convicted on 17 of 20 charges.
Those charges included attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich's sentencing hearing is set to begin Dec. 6 before U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is looking to increase penalties for drivers who illegally park in spots reserved for the disabled.
Starting in January, White said his office will look into increasing fines for those who illegally park in reserved spots without a placard and for those who use fraudulent placards. This comes after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed fine increases for those who use fake, stolen or altered disability placards to park.
"I think it's a violation of all laws of human decency for you to be able bodied but yet you want to take advantage of a program that has been set aside for those in need," said White.
White said he's considering upping the fines for illegally using disability permits to more than $2,000. Current fines for motorists start at $350 for parking without a placard, and a $500 fine and 30-day driver's license suspension for those illegally using one.
White also said his office will again increase enforcement of disability parking rules at malls during the holiday season. Secretary of State police will be outposted at malls in Schaumburg, Rockford, Springfield and Marion on Black Friday and through the weekend. A spokesperson for White's office says this is the first year Secretary of State police will target several malls on Black Friday since the upped enforcement began in 2005.
The spokesperson said the office's police force will move mall-by-mall throughout the state through the remainder of the year.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has given Illinois its highest rating for the state's efforts to combat impaired driving.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's glad the organization has recognized Illinois "as a national leader in the fight against drunk driving.''
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crash deaths have dropped by more than 38 percent since White took office.
IDOT reports there were 711 alcohol-related crash deaths in 1999, compared to 436 last year.
This marks the 5th year that MADD has released a national and state rankings report.
The group's rating system focused on efforts including sobriety checkpoints, enhanced penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, among other measures.
The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.
Federal Grant to Help CUMTD Purchase Hybrid Buses
Several Illinois communities are getting a portion of a $5 million federal transportation grant to purchase hybrid buses. The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District will use some of that money to replace its older buses powered by gasoline and diesel.
Nineteen Airtran Airways workers will lose their jobs in Bloomington-Normal, and travelers will have to book flights on other airlines when the carrier pulls out of the Central Illinois Regional Airport next June.
According to a release from Airtran, continued high fuel prices and the changing economic climate require the end of air service to Central Illinois. Airtran carried 39-percent of Bloomington Normal passengers last year. Airtran also cut service to three other cities and earlier this year dropped four other cities including the Quad Cities in Illinois.
Bloomington-Normal's largest carrier remains Delta. The loss of service includes three daily non-stop flights. Municipal leaders had expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of service loss when Airtran did not renew special spring break flights to Fort Myers.
Airport Director Carl Olson had been meeting with Southwest executives for more than six months trying to make the case
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.
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