Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2010

Urbana Council Poised to Vote on Gas Tax Next Week

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's plan to tax gasoline for road improvements will be brought to a vote next week.

She calls the 2-cent a gallon motor fuel tax 'a modest proposal' - contending it's more expensive to not maintain streets than to maintain them. The ordinance also calls for an automatic escalator of point-4 cents per gallon each July for three years, unless the city council suspends it. The idea passed on a 4 to 3 vote by the Urbana City Council Monday night - so a formal vote can be held next Monday. One of three 'no' votes came from Alderman Brandon Bowersox, who says he likes the idea... just not the timing of it.

"I still feel like the economy has people in such a hard place just keeping their families afloat." said Bowersox. "It's a really hard time to implement a new tax. And I guess if it were up to me alone, I'd say let's wait 6 to 12 months, and look at this as part of next year's budget."

The four tenths of a cent escalator was also a concern for Alderwoman Diane Marlin, who says the tax should be limited to road repair. Mayor Prussing says the funds may be targeted for future road projects, like traffic roundabouts.

Alderman and supporter Charlie Smyth says city leaders would identify exactly what projects the tax would be used for. He says starting out slowly, but working up to a tax of 3-point-2 cents after three years... is a good amount of money to start making an impact.

"After that, it just should simply be part of the way we do the rest of our business." said Smyth. "..which is an annual review of all of our fees and permits."

Mayor Prussing says the local fund was necessary since the state motor fuel tax has been constant for 20 years, while the cost of road repairs has more than doubled. She also contends that cities like Danville haven't driven away motorists after enacting the tax. Besides Smyth, others backing the proposal were Robert Lewis, Dennis Roberts, and David Gehrig. Bowersox, Marlin, and Heather Stevenson opposed the plan.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 17, 2010

Urbana is Named Officially Bicycle-Friendly

The city of Urbana has been trying to make the area friendlier to bicyclists, and tomorrow an organization will give some recognition to that effort.

For the first time, Urbana will be listed as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It's also a first for any downstate Illinois community.

Jennifer Selby is a civil engineer for the city. She's overseeing Urbana's pro-bicycle effort, which involves what she calls the "5 E's" -- engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.

"Engineering means bike lanes, bike paths and those types of things," said Selby. "Education is the types of education programs you have, for adults and for kids -- campaign programs, videos, any kind of printed materials. Encouragement means programs such as Bike to Work Day, which we held the first one in May of this year."

The city also stepped up enforcement of bicycle safety issues - both for riders and motorists - and having a long-range plan for further improvements. Selby says more bike routes and year-round efforts to encourage bike use could raise the level of the bicycle-friendly community recognition from bronze to silver.

The League of American Bicyclists formally announces the title at a Saturday morning event at Urbana's Market at the Square.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Urbana Mayor Continues to Press for Local Motor Fuel Taxes

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's motor fuel tax plan faces charges from critics who say it would raise gasoline prices in the city. But the mayor and chief of staff told council members Monday night that other towns with their own motor fuel taxes haven't had that problem.

Mike Monson, the mayor's chief of staff, says he talked with officials at six downstate cities with motor fuel taxes, including Danville, Tilton, Galesburg and Peoria.

"I talked to them about the competitive effect, " says Monson. "They seemed to think there wasn't much of a price differential between stations that were within the city that were collecting this tax, and stations in nearby communities and unincorporated areas that didn't have it."

But Monson walked back from earlier estimates that a two-cent a gallon gasoline tax could raise a half million dollars a year for Urbana. He now thinks the number would be more like $350,000. City Public Works Director Bill Grey says that would still be enough to help keep up with street maintenance.

"We really need to do more work with resurfacing streets, and seal-coating, crack-sealing and patching streets", says Grey. "So two cents would be a big help." :

Prussing argues that a 2-cent per gallon motor fuel tax would would be barely noticeable --- if passed on to customers --- because gasoline prices already vary widely from one gas station to another. Prussing says she did her own survey of gas station prices last Friday, and found a 23 cent difference between the highest and lowest prices.

"So a 23 cent difference between two gas stations in the same city is more than ten times as much as a two cent tax", says Prussing. "We don't think the tax will get passed on, but if it does, it's still a very small amount, compared to the daily changes and the differences between stations."

Still Republican Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was unconvinced. She said she worried gas stations just outside the Urbana city limits --- in Champaign to the west and Urbana Township to the east --- could take customers away from gas stations in Urbana, if a motor fuel tax passes.

Mayor Prussing says a city gasoline tax is needed, because revenue from the state's motor fuel tax and Urbana's s general fund have not kept up with inflation. She says discussion of the proposed tax will continue at a later council meeting.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2010

CU Mass Transit Board Approved FY 2011 Budget

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District starts a new fiscal year Thursday with some uncertainty. The MTD Board approved a $36 million budget for F-Y 2011 on Wednesday-- with nearly two thirds of that funding coming from the state. But managing director Bill Volk says they don't know if Governor Quinn will reduce that state funding as part of budget cuts he's announcing Thursday morning.

"Well, we've heard nothing to the contrary (to full funding) at this point", said Volk, prior to Wednesday's CUMTD Board meeting. "But our full appropriation is in both the (Illinois) House and Senate versions, and the approved budget. So we'll just have to wait and see what the governor has to say."

Volk says the CU-MTD has put contingency plans in place, in case their state funding is cut. He says, for example, if state funding to the agency is cut by 10%, or $2 million, the reduction would come out of their Capital Expenditures budget, and NOT out of Operations.

At the same time, the CU Mass Transit District has yet to receive the $4 million the state had allocated to them for the 4th quarter of the fiscal year that ended Wednesday. Volk says the transit agency will use reserve funds and a line of credit to get by until that money arrives.

Meanwhile, the local revenue that makes up the rest of the CU-MTD's budget is taking a hit. Volk says the soft economy has resulted in lower property tax revenues. And he says the CU-MTD may have to seek an increase in the property tax levy.

"We would expect in our levy this year to maybe propose a 4% increase," says Volk. "But that would be the maximum, and it actually will probably end up lower than that."

Volk says the CU-MTD will likely annex additional territory in 2012. Areas that could be annexed include new sections of the Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana, and the Apollo industrial subdivision on the north end of Champaign. But Volk says property tax revenue from newly annexed areas would not be available to the transit district until 2012.

The CU-MTD also lost an estimated $150,000 in the fiscal year just ended, due to its popular $60 annual passes. Volk says the passes have sold well since the price was lowered by nearly 75%. At the same time, he says CU-MTD ridership is up roughly 2%, at a time when public transit use is declining nationwide.

Categories: Economics, Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2010

Delta to Leave Champaign Area’s Willard Airport at End of August

An airline's decision to leave the Champaign area's Willard Airport leaves only one airline serving the facility.

It also leaves Willard's manager wondering why Delta Air Lines plans to end its three daily flights to and from Detroit August 31. Steve Wanzek says he was shocked at Delta's phone call Wednesday afternoon mentioning the decision.

"It's been three weeks since they replaced the Saab turboprops with regional jets and added an extra flight," Wanzek said, hours after the call. "I thought we were headed in the right direction, and the feedback we were getting from the Delta desk people downstairs was that they were excited because passenger count had gone up."

Northwest Airlink flights between Willard and Detroit were rebadged with the Delta Express name last year as the two airlines merged. Mesaba Airlines operated the planes. The exit will leave only American Eagle at Willard, but Wanzek says American is a much more stable presence because Willard hosts a maintenance hub for their regional jets.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Chamapign Co. Received $162 Million in Stimulus Money in ‘09

The federal stimulus program was lucrative for the University of Illinois, but less so for government agencies in Champaign County.

A report from the county regional planning commission says more than $162 million in stimulus funding rolled into the county in 2009. But nearly $96 million of that was for the U of I, mainly for research projects according to commission planner Susan Chavarria. $16 million of the total was for infrastructure projects, mostly road construction and improvements.

Chavarria says it's hard to compare whether Champaign County got more or less than other areas of the state or nation. "Smaller communities and smaller counties, they usually don't have the resources to go through the application processes or to take the time to look for the funding sources," Chavarria said. "So in terms of our ability to do that, I think that we have perhaps received more than some of the other downstate counties. For the $546 million that we asked for, our expectations were we'll take what we can get, so I think we've received a fair amount of funding here."

Chavarria says even the U of I assistance indirectly benefits the community in the jobs it ensures for researchers and students. She says stimulus assistance to the county also came in the form of government contracts and business loans.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

I-57 Crash Victims ID’d as Mississippi Women

Three people killed in a nine-vehicle crash on Interstate 57 have been identified as Mississippi women traveling to Illinois' Amish country.

Coles County Coroner Ed Schniers says the women killed Monday just north of Mattoon were: 61-year-old Sheila Douglas of Batesville, Miss.; her mother, 80-year-old Juanita Hall of Sarah, Miss.; and family friend Doris Mayo, who was 68 and also lived in Sarah.

Police say another of Hall's daughters, 58-year-old Anne Faust of Sardis, Miss., remains hospitalized.

Friend Angelisa Weaver of Sardis says the four were driving to the Amish country that's about 15 miles north of Mattoon.

State Police say 12 other people were injured when a big rig crashed into cars slowing for construction.

Categories: Biography, Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2010

New Signs Proclaim Urbana Bike Friendly Community

Signs will soon go up along streets leading into Urbana that tell people their bicycles are welcome.

The purple signs recognize Urbana's new designation as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.

Public Works Director Bill Grey says the signs send an important message.

"It does send a message that this is a town that is accommodating bicycling as a mode of transportation", says Grey. And we're implementing the facilities to do so, and the education and enforcement that go along with that. And encouragement of people to want to get out of their cars , or seek this as a viable mode of transportation."

City councilman and avid cyclist Charlie Smyth says the designation is important for Urbana because of the estimated 8 percent of city residents who use bikes to get to work. Smyth says that's according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. And he says it's important for the city to upgrade its designation from bronze to silver-level. Smyth says that will require more and better bicycle education programs in Urbana --- and better connections between bike paths.

Champaign has not been named a Bicycle Friendly Community --- but the League of American Bicyclists did name Champaign city government a Bicycle Friendly Business.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 04, 2010

CU Bike to Work Day Aiming to Take Some Cars off the Streets

The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.

"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.

He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.

"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."

But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.

He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2010

Urbana City Council Approves Agreement for Study of Olympian Drive Extension

UPDATE: The Champaign City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement on the Olympian Drive study Tuesday night, on a 6 to 2 vote.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the Urbana City Council chamber Monday night as the Urbana City Council voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement on a design engineering study on the Olympian Drive extension.

Council members listened to input from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the road would destroy farmland, and contribute to urban sprawl. Supporters say it would spur economic development. One of the latter was Vice President Steve Brewer of the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. He says unemployed building and construction workers need the jobs that building Olympian Drive would provide. And Brewer siad the community needs the Olympian Drive extension in order to grow.

"I believe that the only conscionable thing to do is to plan for future generations, and this road does that", said Brewer.

Monday night's vote approves the use of a 5-million dollar state grant to pay for the design engineering study, and also land acquisition for Olympian Drive. But land acquisition will be delayed, because it would need the cooperation of the Champaign County Board, which has delayed a vote on the issue until next year. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city of Urbana will focus on the design engineering study first.

Urbana will also do its own study on improvements to North Lincoln Avenue in connection with the Olympian Drive extension --- plus a risk analysis on both the North Lincoln and Olympian Drive projects. Supporters of Olympian Drive say the road extension needs an upgraded North Lincoln Avenue to link to I-74. Opponents agree --- they say with North Lincoln improved for heavy traffic, Olympian Drive wouldn't need to go all the way out to Route 45. But North Lincoln Avenue isn't mentioned in the intergovernmental agreements to study Olympian Drive. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana will have to study North Lincoln on its own.

"North Lincoln Avenue is something that Urbana needs to do", says Prussing, "and I think it going to be more trouble than it's worth to try to include it in the $5 million study, because we'd have to get our partners to agree to it. I think this is really an Urbana study.

The Urbana City Council will look at ways to study North Lincoln Avenue --- and also do a risk analysis of the Olympian Drive project --- later in the spring. Mayor Prussing says she hopes the state-funded Olympian Drive study can start later this year.


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