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Rauner in D.C. on Friday will tout $132M federal grant already announced

The Illinois House has approved a $38.5 billion budget for the year that begins July 1. The proposal goes to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. | Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON — Running for re-election, Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has distanced himself from the Trump administration and this city, will be here on Friday for a press event to highlight a $132 million federal rail infrastructure grant for crucial improvements needed in Chicago’s crowded rail network.

The grant was already announced on Tuesday in press releases from Rauner, a Republican and Democratic Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth plus Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.

Rauner, locked in a battle with Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker, has been traveling the state highlighting infrastructure projects, so the trip here at this time fits into his latest campaign theme.

Rauner will attend a press conference with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, providing him with a photo op that could be useful to his campaign.

This will mark only the second visit here for Rauner, a Republican, since taking office on Jan. 20, 2015, a marked departure from other Illinois governors who made a point to meet with the Illinois delegation here now and then to map federal strategy.

The big grant is for the latest phase of the massive CREATE project on Chicago’s South Side, launched years ago to detangle and reconfigure one of the most congested freight and passenger rail hubs in the nation.

Rail bottlenecks in Chicago impact the rest of the country. Under a private-public partnership, with railroads paying about a third, the $132 million grant will be the federal share for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project.

Durbin, Duckworth and Lipinski — all who spoke with Chao multiple times about the 75th Street CIP grant — were not invited to the Chao presser.

In a statement, Rauner said the grant was “made possible by the work of the entire Illinois congressional delegation,” highlighting Lipinski and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

Durbin, Duckworth and every member of the Illinois House delegation — seven Republicans and 11 Democrats — signed a letter of support. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also backed the project.

Rauner spokesman Patti Schuh said Rauner “actively helped bring this grant across the finish line.” The Illinois Department of Transportation did oversee the giant job of putting together the grant application.

I asked Lipinski about Rauner’s role in landing the grant and he said, “there is nothing that suggests that Gov. Rauner has a lot of clout in the Trump Administration, so it’s hard to say.”

Rauner has said in interviews about the grant that he is friends with Chao from Harvard Business School. Rauner got his MBA in 1981; Chao earned her MBA in 1979.

FOOTNOTE: Rauner was in Washington on Feb. 26 to attend the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 oral argument and for some National Governors Association meetings.