RTA Board Approves 2020 Regional Transit Operating Budget and Five-Year Capital Program

I’m pleased to report that the RTA Board of Directors today adopted the 2020-2024 capital program and 2020 annual operating budgets for the RTA and for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace Suburban Bus and ADA Paratransit, referred to as the Service Boards.  The capital program of $2.1 billion in 2020 and $8.3 billion over five years includes significant new funding from Rebuild Illinois, which was passed in June 2019 as the largest-ever State of Illinois capital program.

Boosted by this infusion of state funds, the 2020-2024 program provides the regional transit system with $2.6 billion over five years in new bonding authority and, for the first time, an estimated $227 million annually in sustainable revenue, referred to as “PAYGO” funding. This new state funding represents 45% of the five-year capital program, which focuses on bringing the system toward a state of good repair, expediting overdue repair and replacement projects, and reducing the backlog of deferred improvements.

Long advocated by the RTA, the Service Boards, and others who recognize that public transportation is vital to this region, new State of Illinois funding nearly doubles our previous five‐year regional capital program of $4.3 billion.  These resources will help us make real progress to improve and, in some cases, replace aging system assets. Still, without a permanent solution to replace the Rebuild Illinois bonding when it expires in five years, asset condition could begin to deteriorate again in 2024. For that reason, we must work to ensure that current State of Illinois funding levels continue well into the future, while also pursuing other funding sources to meet our system’s projected capital needs.

The following highlights show significant impacts of the state funding for each Service Board’s five-year capital program.

CTAs portion of the proposed 2020-2024 capital program is $5.2 billion, of which Rebuild Illinois provides $1.9 billion. CTA will focus on state of good repair projects that improve service reliability and customers’ transit experience.  CTA’s 2020 operating budget is $1.6 billion.  CTA will continue the 31st Street bus pilot and implement Bus Priority Zones to improve bus speed and reliability.

Metra’s portion of the proposed five-year capital program is just over $2.5 billion, of which $1.4 billion is provided by Rebuild Illinois. With many older rail cars and locomotives, Metra continues to concentrate its capital budget on working toward a state of good repair to provide riders with a positive, reliable transit experience.  Metra’s 2020 operating budget is $827 million. Metra will continue Lake County reverse commute service initiated in 2019.

Pace’s 2020-2024 program, including Pace ADA Paratransit, is $568 million, of which $341 million is provided by Rebuild Illinois. Pace ADA will get all $20 million of its capital funding from Rebuild Illinois. Pace plans to focus on replacing its buses as well as maintaining and expanding some services, which will provide a more robust and reliable system for Pace riders.  Pace’s 2020 operating budget is $239 million; Pace ADA Paratransit’s 2020 operating budget is $195 million. Pace plans to increase frequency on I-55 Bus-on-Shoulder routes to alleviate overcrowding and Pace ADA will add service as required by customer demand, which is projected to increase by 0.8%.

On the operations side, the RTA and Service Boards have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive and balanced operating budget. The proposed Service Board budgets exhibit responsible expense growth, with no fare increases anticipated for 2020.

The regional transit agencies have agreed on five principles for allocating the Rebuild Illinois legislation annual pay-go funds and five-year bonding capital dollars.  They are:

  • To begin decreasing the region-wide backlog of deferred projects.
  • To focus spending on projects that can be completed in a timely manner.
  • To provide near-term programming and planning certainty.
  • To allow for long-term adaptability and transparency of future transportation priorities.
  • To continue conducting transparent, data-driven project selection through the annual budgeting process.

As part of the annual budget process for future years, the RTA will work toward a regional agreement to program PAYGO, other state, federal, and RTA funding in a collaborative and transparent process.  To ensure accountability, the programming process will be based on performance goals that adhere to the five principles.  The RTA will also continuously monitor and report quarterly on expenditures of all state funds, and the rate of spending will shape future budget cycles.

To instill the five principles for future years, the RTA will release the new regional programming process for comment in July 2020.  Following that 45-day public review, the programming process will be considered for adoption by the RTA Board at its September 2020 meeting.