Metra mess threatens federal funds for Chicago: Lipinski
By Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business
An influential member of Congress is warning the Chicago area's public transit operators to get their act together fast if they don't want to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
In a letter to the co-chairs of Gov. Pat Quinn's Public Transit Task Force, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat, said he is "deeply concerned" that the recent turmoil at Metra poses a threat to Illinois in the already-heated competition for federal transit cash. Mr. Quinn formed the panel last week.
"These leadership issues could have potentially disastrous consequences as Congress looks to reauthorize the existing surface transportation law," said Mr. Lipinski, co-chair of the House Public Transit Caucus and the only Chicago-area member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the gatekeeper for who gets how much.
The region's operators — Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace — and their oversight body, the Regional Transportation Authority, now get about $450 million a year, but almost lost it last year as House Republicans moved to shift the money to road projects elsewhere in the country. "I was able to help build a coalition to block those cuts," Mr. Lipinski said.
During next year's reauthorization debate, he noted, "it is imperative that Congress sees reforms of Northeastern Illinois transit agencies in order to fight off new attempts to make significant cuts."
The letter, dated Monday but released today, was written to Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider and George Ranney, a civic activist who helped establish the RTA three decades ago.
Mr. Lipinski advised them to hold a series of public hearings and asked to meet with them himself, saying it is “important that any reforms recommended provide the relevant congressional committees with the confidence that Northeastern Illinois has taken steps to address any issues that exist."
The congressman added that he's in touch with Metra's interim leadership and is confident passenger safety is being preserved, but “it is imperative that we move quickly to develop and implement reforms to assure the long-term success" of area transit.
Mr. Lipinski does not yet have the influence of his father, former congressman Bill Lipinski, who was one of the top two or three members of the House in distributing transit money. But his influence has grown, and he provides a nice bit of leverage when combined with the power of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Senate Democrat.
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