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Leaders of the Quad Cities International Airport (QCIA) and MetroLINK celebrated historic government investment in transportation infrastructure at the Quad Cities Chamber Legislative Forum on Friday, March 25. Jeff Nelson, CEO and managing director of the Rock Island County mass transit authority, and Benjamin Leischner, executive director of the regional airport, also urged Quad Cities business leaders to promote regional cooperation and foster big ideas that will grow the Quad Cities. The forum, held at Moline’s TaxSlayer Center, was the latest discussion in the legislative forum series. In a video message, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, celebrated the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the largest federal investment in airports, public transit, locks and dams, roads, and bridges since the Eisenhower Administration created the federal highway system. Both Mr. Leischner and Mr. Nelson, who are state and national leaders in their fields, also lauded the millions of dollars in funding going to each of their essential Quad Cities transportation hubs through Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois program. Mr. Nelson called the IIJA’s overall investment in the nation's infrastructure “incredible” and the Rebuild Illinois money for Quad Cities public transit a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to invest in the future of passenger rail, public transit, and roads and bridges. Mr. Nelson, who also chairs the American Public Transportation Association, also spotlighted a $5 million state grant to purchase on-street, overhead vehicle charging equipment. That will allow MetroLINK’s fleet of all-electric battery operated buses to run all day long. That’s significant since the transportation system’s fleet, which already has eight electrical buses, soon will expand to 17. Those past and current investments in big ideas will make MetroLINK one of the national leaders in green energy technology. Not only will the all-electric fleet be good for the environment, Mr. Nelson said it will set the Quad Cities apart from other communities such as Austin, Texas, which lag behind in electrical conversion. In fact, Mr. Nelson said he chose the airport as the first destination for one of MetroLINK’s electric buses because of the statement it makes to visitors when they leave the airport. He called a trip aboard one of the silent-running, high-tech electric buses the Tesla Effect, after Elon Musk’s luxury electric cars. “If you can’t afford a Tesla, then come and ride with me,” he quipped. One of the biggest infrastructure investments in the airport, the modernization of the Quad Cities passenger terminal could have a similar dramatic impact on growing the region as local and out-of-town passengers travel through the Quad Cities airport. Mr. Leischner called the $20 million to $40 million Project GATEWAY – short for Growing the Air Travel Experience the MLI Way – “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to not only upgrade the 40-year-old terminal but to future-proof it to meet the needs of air travelers and passengers for many years to come. Other projects, he said, include a $5.6 million expansion and rehabilitation of general aviation ramp areas as well as the realignment of Indian Bluff Road to remove blind spots and make it safer for travelers in that area. Not all of the QCIA’s gains will be as readily visible. For example, Mr. Leischner helped lead the creation of the Illinois Airports Council to advocate for all of the airports and the aviation industry in Illinois. That organization, which Mr. Leischner now leads, scored a “huge win” when it successfully advocated streamlining the federal and state bureaucracies by changing the way commercial service airports in Illinois receive Federal Aviation Administration dollars. Prior to the change in what is known as the Channeling Act, airports received those federal funds through the Illinois Department of Transportation, which led to long delays in receiving them. In addition, while the state provided a 5% match for those funds under the old system, airports paid 7% to process the grants’ delivery. The new system will put more dollars in regional airports’ pockets and get them to them faster. Mr. Leischner also shared ways to help the airport better serve the business travelers who have historically been the biggest mix of QCIA passenger business. Their impact was illustrated dramatically, Mr. Leischner said, when business traveler rates dropped during COVID-19. He also told the crowd the airport is seeking input in helping to grow that crucial passenger base. Regarding the availability of business travel options, Mr. Leischner said “We need to hear from the business community … if something needs to be changed, we need to hear about it.” Quad Cities leaders also should “look beyond what is right for my city,” he said, and “look at advocating for the entire community when it comes to federal dollars for the Quad Cities.”