On behalf of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) staff and Board of Directors, I would like to congratulate Congress for making a real impact on public transportation in northeastern Illinois and the rest of the United States. Congressional work on Federal transportation legislation was significant in 2015 and the RTA is appreciative of your efforts to address many of the important policies that were adopted in the final bill.
We are very pleased with the five year term of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, as well as the fact that the bill provides certainty and increases funding for nearly all of the public transportation formula and discretionary programs. We are disappointed that a long-term sustainable funding source was not part of the bill, but we are eager to continue to work with Congress to help find a reliable funding solution in the near future.
Additionally, I wanted to take the opportunity to commend Congress on passing the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act which contained a critical provision that created permanent parity between the parking and transit tax benefit in the United States Tax Code. The benefit, set at $255 per month for 2016, will have a real impact on many Americans, and will have a beneficial impact on many residents who commute to Chicago for work every day.
The permanent commuter benefit parity allowance has been a top priority for RTA for several years. The economic impact it will have on riders in the region is substantial and RTA is very pleased Congress was able to address the issue on a permanent basis.
Despite the increased funding levels in the FAST Act, there is still a fundamental need for an additional increase in federal transit spending moving forward. The State of Good Repair (SGR) backlog for public transportation systems in the United States is roughly $89 billion and growing by $2.5 billion per year. Unless Congress is able to robustly increase the overall size of public transportation investment in the next surface transportation bill, the SGR will continue to grow, especially for legacy systems like the RTA. Furthermore, a significant increase in federal dollars for surface transportation investment will not be possible until Congress addresses the HTF shortfall issue.
Again, we truly appreciate all of your dedication to transportation issues in 2015. The FAST Act and the PATH Act are sure to provide valuable benefits for the RTA system users. The RTA looks forward to working with you and your staff as we continue to improve the RTA system and its experience for users.