Senator Tammy Duckworth touts MetroLink expansion to MidAmerica Airport
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, who chairs the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee, said she spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday about the necessity to extend MetroLink to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
Metro East leaders for years have touted this proposed MetroLink expansion as a vital link to help travelers by connecting MidAmerica with St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
“I actually talked to Secretary Buttigieg yesterday about that MetroLink expansion,” Duckworth said Saturday. “I mentioned to him how important that was.”
The state has already awarded a $96 million grant toward the extension of MetroLink’s mainline about 5.5 miles to a new passenger station at the airport.
Duckworth also met with MetroLink officials and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in Washington, D.C., in the past week to discuss federal funding for MetroLink and safety on the system.
As leader of the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee, Duckworth said she is working on a proposed five-year reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, and she met with regional airport officials on Saturday at the DoubleTree Hotel in Collinsville about the issue.
Duckworth said this plan for the FAA is one of the top priorities that the U.S. Congress needs to handle this year.
The previous plan was approved in 2018, and at that time it had up to $96.7 billion in funding for the FAA, according to a report by Aviation International News.
Duckworth said the proposed budget for the FAA has not been set.
“We’re in the process of getting things put forward right now,” she said.
Along with funding, the proposed bill also will include the language that tells the FAA “how to do things,” Duckworth said.
For instance, Duckworth said she wants the FAA to use its “civil prosecution authority” and added that the agency did not pursue civil penalties against Boeing after two Boeing 737 Max planes crashed. One crash was in Ethiopia in 2019 when 157 people died, and the other was in Indonesia in 2018 when 189 people were killed.
Duckworth also said she wants the reauthorization bill to triple the amount of grants for workforce development.
“We need more mechanics, we need more pilots, we need more people in aviation in general,” she said.
Serving as chair of the Aviation Subcommittee fits into Duckworth’s experience as a pilot. She was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army in Iraq, where she lost both of legs when an RPG hit her helicopter on Nov. 12., 2004.
“It was really important to sit down with my aviation leaders here in this part of the state,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth met with officials from MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, St. Louis Downtown Airport and St. Louis Regional Airport. Other airports included Quad Cities International Airport, Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, Mount Vernon Outland Airport, Decatur Airport and Central Illinois Regional Airport.
The senator said she gets “lots of feedback” from larger airports such as Chicago Midway International Airport, O’Hare International Airport and others across the country.
“But it’s really important to remember that we have so many other airports around the country and in particular Illinois that are major engines for the economy that are vitally important for economic growth,” she said. “Really in many ways, in a very exciting way, it’s where the growth is happening, where businesses are expanding.”
Mike Koziatek is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.