BLOOMINGTON — Local officials hope a trip to Washington, D.C., this week will help them figure out how best to get assistance from the federal government under President Donald Trump.
“This is a unique year. We have a new president who is, two months in, trying to get his feet in the water," said Kyle Ham, CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council. "We’re very focused on where this new administration is going.”
Thirty-six local officials will be in the nation's capital Wednesday through Friday for "One Voice," an annual trip that allows them to promote Bloomington-Normal's priorities to federal agencies and officials.
Attendees include: Ham; Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner; Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas; City Manager David Hales; Bloomington Economic Development Coordinator Austin Grammer; Normal Mayor Chris Koos; council member Kathleen Lorenz; Children's Discovery Museum Executive Director Shelleigh Birlingmair; and McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre and members Chuck Erickson, Carlo Robustelli and Dave Selzer.
Bloomington plans to use the trip to seek federal money for two major road projects: a Hamilton Road extension from Bunn Street to Commerce Parkway, and widening and upgrading Main Street/U.S. Business 51 between Olive Street at the southern edge of downtown and College Avenue in Normal.
The town will "be doing some fact-finding," Koos said, about federal funding for the railroad crossing at Uptown Station currently under study.
Under President Barack Obama, local officials stumped for TIGER and FASTLANE grants that helped build Uptown Station, but they may no longer exist.
"Whatever they are called under the new administration, we want to find out what way we can get assistance,” said Renner. “(Trump) did claim he wanted to put a lot of money into infrastructure."
The group also will speak to congressional representatives, including Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and Republican Reps. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Darin LaHood of Dunlap, about continuing to have soccer fields on property at the Central Illinois Regional Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration requested the fields close at the end of 2017 due to safety issues, but officials haven't agreed on a replacement. Bloomington officials have balked at funding a sports complex including soccer estimated at $16 million.
“We'll probably talk most directly with Rodney Davis' staff because he is on a committee that deals with the FAA,” Renner said. “We'll probably ask for several years. ... They might give us one, two or three years, if they give us anything."
County officials hope to use the trip to pursue mental health changes, said County Administrator Bill Wasson.
“No specific grant opportunity on this trip,” he said. “They’re going to go to (the Department of Justice) to talk about some initiatives that relate to mental health and super-utilizers in the criminal justice system.”
Other efforts to be discussed include the EDC's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project with local businesses and schools; the McLean County Chamber of Commerce's workforce initiative; and a McLean County Museum of History exhibit on the history of labor in the area.
The group also has scheduled meetings with officials at the departments of Labor and Transportation, Ham said.
Koos and Renner agreed the trip will be collegial despite recent tension between Bloomington and Normal over the Metro Zone agreement. The Bloomington City Council voted to end the tax-sharing agreement, which benefits Normal by $1.2 million per year, but town officials have asked to continue negotiating a replacement.
"Obviously this was a bump in the road," Renner said. “I don't think it will be difficult at all."
“There may have been (some awkwardness) initially, but I certainly got over that,” Koos said. "There won’t be any issues at 'One Voice.'”