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Bustos, LaHood tout bipartisan work on federal funding for Peoria International Airport, Ag Lab

Peoria’s two congressional representatives highlighted their bipartisan cooperation in delivering nearly $20 million in federal funding for a pair of projects in the area.

U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood and Cheri Bustos on Friday touted a $15 million grant toward a new air traffic control tower at General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport, then celebrated $4.5 million in community project funding for the Peoria Ag Lab.

“This is really a lesson in partnership, it's a lesson in bipartisanship, and it is a lesson in perseverance,” said Bustos, a Moline Democrat who will retire at the conclusion of her current fifth term representing the 17th District.

“I've been in office for 10 years now; I've got a little less than four months left before I am out of office. Darin has been in office for going on eight years now. And this would not have happened had all of us not been in a position to work together.”

LaHood, R-Dunlap, agreed that it took collaboration from both sides of the aisle to get the airport’s $15 million written into the bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.

“In my roughly eight years serving in this job, this has been at the top of our list, getting a new tower. We're able to do that here today, and this really completes the modernization of this airport,” said LaHood, noting the project improves PIA’s long-term sustainability.

“I always say airport towers aren't Republican towers or Democrat towers; they are towers for the good of the community. That's what really this is about today, a collaborative effort with our two U.S. Senators (Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth) and Congresswoman Bustos and myself working collaboratively for the betterment of Peoria.”

LaHood voted against the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the House of Representatives last November with 13 Republicans joining 215 Democrats in support of the legislation.

“Have I disagreed on some of the philosophical views on these larger bills? 100%,” LaHood said. “But when it comes to local projects and us working together, (I’m) 100% supportive.”

Airport director Gene Olson noted the 63-year-old current air traffic control tower is out of date and in disrepair. He said the push for a new tower dates back more than a decade to when the current terminal was built.

“We moved in into this building in 2011, and at the same time we started that process we started working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) on letting them know that we needed to do something about the control tower as well,” said Olson. “Unfortunately, because of the existing laws at the time, because there were FAA staff members in that control tower, that made us ineligible for the Airport Improvement Program, which is our main grant funding source.”

That restriction is what made it necessary for Bustos and LaHood to get it into the infrastructure bill.

“When the existing laws don't match up with what needs to be done at a local level, you figure out what does need to be done,” said Bustos.

Olson noted the $15 million will only cover about half of the full project cost.

“We're going to be looking for other funding sources hopefully to follow on, because it's a five-year program,” said Olson. “But then we also have to have a backup plan to see if there's a way we can fund it with other resources.”

“My understanding is, obviously getting this $15 million – you're in the pipeline,” added LaHood. “The FAA has a long track record of funding these towers once you're in the pipeline, so to speak. So we anticipate there'll be funding, but it'll be incumbent upon us and other leaders in the congressional delegation to continue to push for the funding.”

Peoria County Farm Bureau Manager Patrick Kirchhofer, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti show of a $4.5 million check presented to the Peoria Ag Lab on Friday.
Photo from the office of U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood
Peoria County Farm Bureau Manager Patrick Kirchhofer, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti show off a $4.5 million check presented to the Peoria Ag Lab on Friday.

Ag Lab funding

Both representatives joined Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, Peoria County Farm Bureau Manager Patrick Kirchhofer, and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti for a ceremonial check presentation at the Ag Lab. Bustos said the $4.5 million will go toward building a greenhouse to research sustainable agriculture.

She said a recent mission to Ghana and Senegal made her start to view farming innovation as a matter of national security.

“They have countries around them knocking at their door, where violent extreme organizations want to come in. And if the people there are hungry, or they can't figure out how to make a living, those violent extreme organizations that hate America will go into these countries,” Bustos said. “That’s why aid to foreign countries matters.

“This project at the Ag lab plays into that because they're going to do research on how do you make drought-resistant crops, seeds. So it's all about research that the Ag lab is best at, and it's all about giving them a new way of handling the research through this greenhouse.”

LaHood stressed that agriculture is Illinois’ top industry and the $4.5 million is an important investment.

“This money that we're allocating to the Ag lab is going to help promote what they do there more, and the lab that's going to be built there,” said LaHood, who is seeking the 16th District seat in November after the 18th District was eliminated.

“My current district is the eighth largest ag district in the country in terms of corn and soybean production; we produce the best row crops anywhere in the world. This money is going to go to enhance that research, to figure out other ways that we can use the work that's going on on row crops for other inventions, other innovation, other creativity there – using the power of these researchers and scientists and PhDs there to try to have applicable private sector growth on using this technology. Frankly, that’s good for everyone in Illinois.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.