National Infrastructure Week 2017: Our region needs consistent transit capital funding

The CTA is undertaking the largest capital improvement project in its history: the Red and Purple Modernization Program (RPM).   CTA’s busiest rail line—the Red Line—is almost 100 years old.

This is National Infrastructure Week, a week of events, media coverage, education and advocacy efforts designed to elevate infrastructure, including public transportation, as a critical issue impacting all Americans.

Our country and region have major infrastructure needs. President Trump’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) ‘skinny’ budget proposal would hurt communities throughout the country. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), it could put 800,000 jobs at risk and reduce economic output by $90 billion.  Federal funds account for about 2/3 of our region’s five year transit capital funding program. The remainder of our capital plan is largely RTA bond proceeds and Service Board funds—there are no state funds in our 2017 capital program.

Federal dollars that are in serious danger of being cut have been critical in our region.   They are a portion of the dollars Metra is using to rebuild the Milwaukee West Line Fox River Bridge which carries 54 Metra commuter trains and up to eight Canadian Pacific (CP) freight trains each weekday. The bridge (also known by its bridge number, Z-100) was originally constructed in 1881.   The funds “on the block” are critical to the CTA being able modernize its Red and Purple ‘L’ lines, whose ridership has climbed dramatically over the past few years.  These dollars have historically been very important to the CTA as it modernizes its CTA stations, some of which are 100 years old.

Nationally, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated America’s public transit infrastructure a “D-,” which reflects a severe lack of federal investment in our public transportation infrastructure.  Locally, a recent ASCE report card raised our state’s ranking a bit to a C-, but gave transit overall a D+, stating, “Much of the infrastructure for a world-class transit system, particularly in Northeastern Illinois, is in place, but it has suffered as a result of age and lack of funding. The Chicago region under-spends on transit operations and capital compared to both national and international cities.” Today, the RTA estimates we need to invest $37.7 billion over the next ten years to address our region’s current capital backlog and account for normal future reinvestment.

Whatever your commute looks like, whether you are behind the wheel or taking transit, you benefit from our regional transit system.  More than 40 companies have relocated to our region in the past few years, and our robust public transportation system is one reason why.  Between 1990 and 2012, vehicle travel on Interstate highways in Illinois increased 25%. Severe traffic congestion costs Illinois’ economy billions of dollars in lost productivity each year and driving on these roads costs Illinois motorists $3.7 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs–that’s with a transit system that provides two million rides each day.

Let’s work to let our state and federal elected officials know: Illinois’ infrastructure is important to us and we have to make investment in it a priority.

 

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