Officials in Illinois Call for Increase in Federal Transit Spending
The leaders of Chicago-area public transit agencies and Illinois elected officials from both political parties rallied Thursday for Congress to pass a robust, long-term federal spending plan to rebuild rail infrastructure used by commuter and intercity trains, update bus fleets and rehab roads and bridges.
The "Stand Up 4 Transportation'' event at Union Station was among many similar activities held across the nation to urge the federal government to provide sustainable funding.
"The message to Congress is 'Man up,'" U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told a crowd of transit workers and supporters as well as Amtrak and Metra passengers who were passing through the West Loop train terminal's Great Hall.
The Obama administration has proposed spending $478 billion on transportation over the next six years — a 45 percent increase over current levels.
Illinoiswould receive almost $1.7 billion in fiscal 2016 in federal highway aid, up from nearly $1.4 billion currently, according to theU.S. Department of Transportation. The federal allocation to the state for mass transit would jump to almost $807 million, from about $523 million.
At the same time that elected officials from Illinois are calling on Congress to replace at higher levels federal transportation capital-improvement funding legislation that is set to expire May 31, Illinois is on the verge of slashing operational subsidies to transit agencies in the state.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed cutting almost $170 million from Chicago-area mass transit, including a roughly $130 million annual reduction to the Chicago Transit Authority, a decrease of almost $21 million to Metra, a $10 million cut to Pace and eliminating the $8.5 million that the state provides to ADA paratransit services.
Addressing the audience about efforts at the CTA to cut costs and eliminate duplicative services, CTA President Forrest Claypool said, "They say that the Lord helps those who help themselves.''
Claypool's words seemed to hang in the air, highlighting the disconnect between Illinois' push for more federal transportation investment, while the state appears headed toward its own funding cutbacks.
Officials at the Regional Transportation Authority said the CTA, Metra and Pace would be forced to increase fares, reduce service and downsize staffing if the General Assembly approved Rauner's proposed cuts. RTA chairman Kirk Dillard, a Republican, signaled Thursday that a loss of some state funding was almost certain.
"We're going to obviously cooperate with Gov. Rauner,'' Dillard said in response to a reporter's question. He said the strategy of transit officials will be to make the case "that investing in mass transit is a wise decision economically.''
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