Tribune photo illustration

Chicago Tribune photo illustration (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune / February 7, 2012)

Chicago-area bus and train riders, along with highway construction workers, ought to feel better knowing that gridlock appears to be easing in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

That was the message Friday from three suburban representatives who, nonetheless, urged their fellow lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to finally pass a transportation bill before time runs out June 30.

The three, Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs; Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale; and Robert Dold, R-Kenilworth, teamed up for the second time in four months to call for more compromise and less confrontation when it comes to federal transportation legislation.

A 47-member House-Senate conference committee has been attempting for a month to negotiate an agreement on a bill to fund the nation’s road, rail and bridge system and mass transit.

Congress has already extended the current reauthorization legislation nine times.

“The reports so far have been good. I have heard that real compromises are being made by both sides,” Lipinski said at a Downtown press conference.

“We can have no more extensions. If we delay any longer, we will miss the summer construction season,” said Lipinski, who spoke as heavy equipment operators tore up Wacker Drive in preparation for a new double-decker roadway. “This (bill) will put people to work like the ones we see behind us.”

Biggert talked of recently touring a Joliet quarry.

“There was only one truck customer that came in to pick up stone (for construction),” she said. “That’s what’s happening to companies across the country and in Illinois. There is no business if we don’t have a transportation bill.”

After marathon meetings, the top negotiators on the measure, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, issued a statement Thursday voicing optimism.

What’s at stake for Chicagoans, transportation officials said, is a “dependable” source of federal funding to pay for long-term, big-ticket projects, like the CTA’s Red Line rebuilding and Metra’s reconstruction of bridges on the UP North Line.

In February, Lipinski, Dold and Biggert called on their fellow legislators to continue funding mass transit with federal motor fuel taxes. That funding is no longer in jeopardy, but conferees continue to be at odds over transportation “enhancements” such as bicycle lanes.

An even more contentious issue is the Republican proposal to include approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The lawmakers called for bipartisanship.

Republicans and Democrats -- it doesn’t make any difference,” Dold said. “We all use the roads, the bridges, the ports.”

rwronski@tribune.com
Twitter @richwronski