A Look Back on 2019: State Passes Rebuild Illinois, Largest Capital Bill in a Decade

Dear transit riders,

I want to wish you all a Happy New Year and reflect on the RTA’s accomplishments over the past year.

The RTA’s 2020-2024 capital program includes a significant infusion of new funds from the State of Illinois. The RTA worked with regional partners to advocate for this state funding and leveraged other special transit-related days to shine a light on the region’s needs.

The Rebuild Illinois capital bill passed in June provides the regional transit system with $2.6 billion over five years in new bonding authority and, for the first time ever, an estimated $227 million annually in sustainable revenue, referred to as “PAYGO” funding. This new state funding represents 45% of the regional five-year capital program, which focuses on bringing the regional transit system toward a state of good repair, expediting overdue repair and replacement projects, and reducing the backlog of deferred improvements.  The funding nearly doubles our previous five-year regional capital program of $4.3 billion, as can be seen in the 2020 operating budget and 5-year capital program approved by the RTA board at its December 19 meeting.

After the bill was passed, the RTA  joined the Service Boards to launch a unifying campaign,  thanking riders who supported transit investment and reminding everyone that “We Can All Agree on Transit.”

Though the passage of Rebuild Illinois was certainly the highpoint of 2019, the RTA did other work as well to benefit regional riders and residents.  Let’s take a look at some highlights:

Achieving Invest in Transit Goals.  Throughout 2019, the RTA  kept close tabs on our progress in achieving the Invest in Transit goals.  Rebuild Illinois funding advances the first goal: “Deliver Value on Our Investment.”  Still, we must ensure funding exists beyond the current 5-year bond program which expires in 2024.  Currently, more than 31% of our collective assets (buses, trains, bridges and tunnels) are not in a state of good repair and at today’s funding levels, they will begin to deteriorate again by 2035 if we don’t have the proper funding going forward.  Rebuild Illinois was a great step in the right direction, but there’s more work to be done to find and maintain long term, sustainable funding sources for the system.

The second goal, “Build on the Strengths of our Network,” asks if we are using our resources wisely.  One way to assess this is to examine the amount of service available to our riders.  The region has made a policy decision to provide transit coverage over a very large and diverse region resulting in many millions of vehicle revenue miles.  Looking back to 2010, the trend is clearly upward, with a six percent increase in Regional Vehicle Revenue Miles, indicating that our transit coverage has expanded and provides many service options.

The final goal is “Stay Competitive.”  In a time of transportation choices, transit must be a convenient, safe and affordable option.  The  RTA currently has two active micro-mobility pilots underway, in Bannockburn and Oak Brook.  These pilots connect commuters from Metra stations to commercial properties that would otherwise have no connection to Metra and are an innovative way to address mobility challenges.

Work Around the Region.  The agency worked with Pace to improve transit access along Harlem Avenue as part of Pace’s Pulse Program.  The RTA  launched a new study to explore funding sources to support ridership growth along Metra’s North Central Service (NCS) corridor.   The RTA Community Planning Program announced nine regional projects would receive more than $900,000 to improve economic development near transit and increase transit usage. The RTA Board approved funding for eleven projects through Section 5310 Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program and the agency’s Access to Transit program received funding from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program for seven projects to improve access to transit.

Serving Riders with Disabilities.  The RTA processed about 14,000 ADA paratransit applications and renewals with approximately 63,000 regional riders eligible for the program.  The Mobility Management team met with nearly 21,000 people at nearly 500 group transit orientation presentations and various community outreach events.

RTA Leadership.  The RTA added three new members to the board.  They represent the City of Chicago, DuPage County and Lake County.  I’m proud that I was re-elected as Chairman of the RTA Board.  Our board meets every month and the meeting is streamed live on the RTA website. If you want to catch up on past meetings, they are also on our website in the meeting archive section.

Keeping in Touch.  The Ride On blog continues to provide a first-person perspective on transit in the region. It features  transportation-related celebrations tied to  Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Women’s History Month.  The RTA took part in the Car Free Day to encourage first time and occasional riders to take public transportation. I’d encourage you to continue to follow the RTA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Executive Director Leanne Redden and I have our own Twitter accounts as well.

The Board and I are proud of the work the RTA staff did in 2019, and we look forward to more important transit-related accomplishments in 2020.

Kirk Dillard, Chairman
Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois (RTA)