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New infrastructure funding will help expand access to transit for people with disabilities

Because of the passage of the new bipartisan infrastructure legislation, nearly $2 billion is coming to transit agencies across the country to help address an accessibility gap.

"We've never had a separate fund set aside for disability access improvements for mass transit stations," Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth told CBS News in a recent interview. "This is really significant. We are going to see real improvements very soon."

Some 20% of all transit stations in the U.S. are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Federal Transit Administration, because they aren't accessible to people with disabilities. It's a problem that Duckworth, who is a double amputee, knows well. 

"I still to this day can't ride the subway in New York. I can't ride the L in Illinois, in Chicago, I can't get around on it very well because half the time there may not be an elevator," told CBS News earlier this year. She explained, "I tried accessing the subway in New York once and could not get on because the elevator was not working, and the next one didn't have an elevator — or the one after that."

The bipartisan infrastructure measure establishes a $1.75 billion five-year grant program for transit and commuter rail agencies to upgrade their stations, and it is based on legislation Duckworth introduced earlier this year.

Her proposed ASAP Act sought $10 billion dollars over 10 years to help legacy transit systems like those in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., to begin the costly work of upgrading stations after significant financial losses because of the pandemic. Those stations saw their ridership numbers decimated by COVID-19.

"I'm going to come back and the other $10 billion over the five years after that — I'm not done yet," she said.

The program is a tiny part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will also calls for accessibility improvements at Amtrak stations and a permanent disability advocate on the Amtrak board of directors.

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