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By Kirk Dillard, Chairman
RTA Board of Directors
August 28, 2015
Kudos for stressing the importance of the region’s transportation future (“Build a transit network for the future” — Aug. 24). The editorial said, “We need a bigger and better transit system.” That sums it all up. We at the RTA work to support the efforts of Mayor Emanuel and others in the region to foster transit-oriented developments. Since 1998, the RTA has provided staff and resources to create over 100 TOD plans in our region to assure more residents can live and work near transit. The RTA’s Capital Asset Condition report shows the region’s capital needs are $36.1 billion. This includes the region’s mass transit “State of Good Repair” backlog — or what it would take to “catch up” and fund the unmet needs that have accumulated over time — which is $19.5 billion.
One funding proposal is to increase the federal gas tax, which has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. Twenty-two years ago, the price of gas at the pump was a little over a $1 a gallon. If the gas tax had been indexed to inflation when it was last increased, it would be approximately 30 cents a gallon today. Congress set this tax rate to ensure enough funds for the Federal Highway Trust Fund to keep our roads and bridges in good repair. Most of the funding goes to build and fix our roads, bridges and highways; about 14 percent goes to our public transportation systems. Our highway and transit needs are growing and it’s time for our state and federal legislators to pass long-term, sustainable legislation that provides the funding needed to maintain and expand our excellent transit system. Studies show that every dollar invested in public transportation generates $4 in economic returns.
The RTA’s credit rating is among the best in the public sector and 2008 RTA legislation produced the only substantive public employment pension reform that continues to be successful for the CTA. The RTA region’s system has the lowest operating cost per passenger mile of our peers and ranks second highest in fare per passenger trip of our top 10 peer regions. We rank third in our peer group for traveling the longest distance in service without experiencing major mechanical failures, even as 30 percent of our vehicles are in need of replacement. We are investing our limited resources wisely. Whether it’s new rail cars for Metra and CTA, buses for CTA and Pace, bridge and track work, or station modernization, our region’s capital funding needs are real. I call on those who can to make the tough choices and help us all do as the Sun-Times demands: “Build a transit network for the future.” Where transit goes, community grows.
Cook County’s public transit system is the backbone of our region, but much of Chicagoland is left stranded in transit deserts between the lines. It’s time we fill in the gaps to reap the benefits of a more robust transit network, including cleaner air, new economic development, and fewer cars on our roads. Right now, we have a rare opportunity to get the Cook County Board to invest in our transit future, and we need your help to make it happen.
As you may have heard, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has proposed a one-percentage point sales tax increase. This new revenue source, which would address Cook County’s underfunded pension, also opens the door for funding new public transit expansion in Cook County. By shoring up the past, we have the opportunity to invest in the future.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners may be voting on the sales tax increase as early as Wednesday, July 15. If we don’t act together right now, we’ll miss a chance to invest in the transit network the Chicagoland of tomorrow deserves.
Together, we can shape the future of this great region.
Campaign Manager Jacky Grimshaw wrote about the momentum being made at Transit Future on CNT's Intersections Blog.
A big thank you to Congressman Mike Quigley for joining us on June 18 in Chicago to give an inspiring talk on transit funding at the federal level!