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Three projects put under the microscope

Friday, Mar 24, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* This BGA/Illinois Answers headline has a lot of sizzle

$141M in Pritzker Projects Have Close Ties to Governor’s Allies But Face Serious Questions

* The main story is about the port in Cairo

The port’s backers include a downstate Republican state senator and a longtime personal friend of the governor’s who did public relations work for him, his charities and his business interests for many years before Pritzker was elected. […]

When Pritzker approved the earmark for the Cairo port, it was far from shovel ready.

Even today, after $2.8 million of the grant has been spent, the project has stalled. Work stopped June 30 amid state officials raising questions about how bond proceeds were being spent. Officials wanted a tighter reign on which costs could be paid out of Rebuild Illinois bond proceeds before funding the next $7.5 million the port requested. […]

But Pritzker’s original Rebuild Illinois plan, signed into law that June, did not direct funds specifically for the Cairo port. […]

Port backers had requested $7.5 million to advance to the next phase.

But they have hit a serious roadblock. The Illinois Department of Transportation, the state agency in charge of the grants, had found a “deeply concerning” pattern of spending, as more than half the state funds already spent had gone to pay consultants. […]

Not only did the $40 million grant fall short of the initial projected cost of $75 million, but the latest design is projected to cost $250 to $300 million. The port district plans to raise the additional funds from private investors, rather than request more state funding, according to port planners. […]

Illinois lawmakers tried to exempt the port from tougher state [wetlands] requirements and apply the less stringent federal standard, which calls for fewer acres of new wetlands, but the governor didn’t agree to their plan.

He vetoed the bill, with the governor’s spokeswoman explaining that given the hardships Cairo has already endured, it didn’t need an “environmental disaster” on its hands.

Not mentioned is that new board members were appointed last year.

* On to the second item

In a similar vein, Pritzker defends his decision to award a $96 million grant for a 5 1/2 mile passenger train line several miles outside of St. Louis, because so little state money has been spent on infrastructure in the area.

Since the late 1990s, local officials have tried to get millions of dollars to extend the MetroLink light rail system from Scott Air Force Base, near Belleville, to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, both in St. Clair County Illinois. […]

In 2019 Pritzker put $96 million in his Rebuild Illinois capital plan for the MetroLink extension. […]

State and local officials did not answer detailed questions about the process and provided scant records regarding the origins of the grant. But one political ally of the governor who clearly benefited from the deal is former Congressman Jerry Costello, now a lobbyist and consultant.

On a list of Costello’s accomplishments, the Bi-State Development Agency, which owns and operates MetroLink, pointed to his work “with federal and state officials on the extension of MetroLink to MidAmerica Airport in Illinois. The project was awarded a $96 million grant from the State of Illinois.”

Construction is slated to begin later this year.

* And number three

The Rebuild Illinois legislation includes a $5 million grant that on paper would appear to benefit the Illinois Medical District, a government body that owns and oversees properties on the Near West Side.

But the district says it never asked for the grant to be included in the legislation. Instead, it has been used as a pass-through for a politically active real estate developer and his mixed residential and commercial development on IMD property – 9.5 acres of neglected, contaminated land just southwest of Harrison and Damen.

That real estate developer, Elzie Higginbottom, is the true beneficiary of the grant, which pays for site preparation such as excavation, hauling and soil remediation, plus an outdoor plaza with a $400,000 fountain set amidst 23-foot-high illuminated, stainless steel arches. […]

Higginbottom was credited by Politico with connecting Pritzker to the Black community during the 2018 race for the governor’s office saying he made introductions for the billionaire gubernatorial candidate.

In December 2018, Pritzker named Higginbottom and his wife, Deborah, to his inaugural committee along with 38 other Illinois movers and shakers. […]

Higginbottom has started to lease out apartments in the newly built 161-unit building on the site; the next step is building a hotel, scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2023.

       

6 Comments
  1. - welllllllll - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 2:29 pm:

    This is a nothing burger full of smoke and no fire despite their best efforts.


  2. - Derek Smalls - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 2:38 pm:

    Headline had a lot sizzle, story had a lot of fizzle.


  3. - Derek Smalls - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 2:42 pm:

    Surprised the opening sentence wasn’t “Good afternoon, Ken. Please tell me your news.”


  4. - Michelle Flaherty - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 2:52 pm:

    Alt headline: Authors wonder why places they’ve never been are getting money.


  5. - Concerned Observer - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 3:25 pm:

    Having ridden MetroLink in January for the first time in maybe a decade, I say this:

    If they can keep the same measure of service, cleanliness and efficiency up, they should extend it as far as they possibly can.

    We are a CTA veteran family and we were all quite impressed with Metrolink into STL and back. To us it seemed like a clear example of something *positive* government created, so, we say keep it going.

    *note: I speak solely of the light rail system. No comment on the bus feeders.


  6. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Mar 24, 23 @ 4:18 pm:

    ===If they can keep the same measure of service, cleanliness and efficiency up, they should extend it as far as they possibly can. ===

    The MetroEast and St Louis could greatly benefit from expanding commuter rail. Service has been incredibly improved over the last 20 years, it just needs to be a better option for more commuters.

    ===But Face Serious Questions ===

    I really missed where the questions about this actually are — other than IDOT expressing concerns about payments to consultants and the Cairo port project expanding beyond it’s original scope which one might expect for a project that has been in discussion for a quarter of a century.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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