Federal infrastructure funds flow to Chicago facilities

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Despite a record low set in 2013, water levels along the city’s shoreline have risen more than 6 feet in just seven years. Although levels peaked at the end of 2020, Lake Michigan is still 22 inches above its mean level, according to data from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In January, the agency allocated $1.5 million from the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the Chicago Shoreline Storm Damage Reduction Project, which specifically aims to strengthen the shoreline against erosion caused by the extreme fluctuations in water level that have led to flooding in the city center in recent years. the overflow of the Chicago River, the flooding of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, and water crashing into the sides of buildings and lakeside living structures.

The federal funding came at the behest of Illinois Democrats who demanded increased attention to “one of Chicago’s most valuable assets,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in January. “As the coastline continues to face environmental threats from extreme weather and erosion, it is more important than ever that we take concrete action to protect it,” he said. The funding is in addition to the $185 million Durbin has helped direct to the waterfront project over the past 20 years.

The delicate balance between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River is central to the challenge, such as when the backup system that sends water from the river to the lake during storms fails, raising the level of the lake.

Since January 2020, when 20-foot waves and 50 mph winds hit the shore, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has approved $1.5 million for repairs along the lake near Morgan Shoal between the 47th and 51st Streets to prevent erosion and protect Lake Shore Drive from damaging waves.

It didn’t stop there. In September 2020, the Chicago Water Reclamation District and Department of Transportation helped fund work by the Army Corps of Engineers to build concrete barriers 20 feet wide and 800 feet long to protect a part of the trail by the lake. The work was completed last May.

Additionally, last spring Lightfoot announced it was allocating $12.3 million to rebuild a mile of lake shore encompassing Morgan Shoal, a 32-acre aquatic wildlife sanctuary located about 300 feet offshore from Hyde Park.

Bridging the digital divide

Seeking to improve everyone’s access to the Internet, the White House included funding in the infrastructure bill for broadband expansion. In Cook County, 24% of residents don’t have a broadband connection and 43% of households aren’t connected, according to county data. In fact, the number of homes in the county without Internet access is equal to that of all of rural Illinois.

The incoming federal money aims to change that. Illinois is expected to receive at least $100 million to provide broadband coverage to approximately 228,000 people in the state. The money will also make 2.9 million people, or 23% of the state’s population, eligible for a benefit that helps low-income families get connected.

The issue of Internet connectivity is already a priority of the current administration in Springfield. Governor JB Pritzker launched a $400 million statewide initiative in late 2019 to expand broadband access through special grants. An additional $20 million was used to support the Illinois Century Network, a high-speed broadband network that serves K-12 public school students, museums, public libraries, governments local and higher education institutions. The network owns or leases approximately 2,100 miles of fiber optic cable running throughout the state.

A special program in 2020 raised $50 million to provide free high-speed internet access to more than 100,000 public school students who live primarily on the south and west sides. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin donated $7.5 million, with other philanthropic organizations including Crown Family Philanthropies, Joyce Foundation and former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama contributing the rest.

Take out the lead

Under the new federal infrastructure law, Illinois will receive approximately $288 million to replace nearly 400,000 lead service lines and other water-related programs. Illinois has the most lead utility lines in the nation, according to data from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Chicago has the most lead pipes in the state and more than any city in the United States. Lead service lines that carry drinking water can leach a dangerous neurotoxin that damages the brain, among other illnesses.

Federal infrastructure funding is just a drop in the ocean. The city says it will cost nearly $9 billion to replace all the pipes. Progress since Lightfoot announced a replacement plan of around 600 rows by 2021 has been slow. Federal money should help pick up the pace, though state law passed last year gives Chicago up to 50 years to complete the job.

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