Transit representatives, state politicians request federal transportation funding


Daily file photo by Mariam Gomaa

Local transit companies, including the Chicago Transit Authority, are hoping to benefit from more federal support. Representatives from the Regional Transportation Authority and state politicians from both parties rallied together at Chicago Union Station on Thursday for increased funding for long-term transportation projects.

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Transportation officials and state politicians called for increased federal funding to cover renovations for the region’s transit system in a press conference Thursday at Chicago Union Station.

Representatives from the Regional Transportation Authority along with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) discussed the need for new long-term transportation bills that support multi-year projects instead of relying on temporary extensions. An existing bill, called MAP-21 — which deals with commercial vehicle safety — is set to expire at the end of May, while the Highway Trust Fund — which provides for highway spending — is financially troubled.

The press conference was held on Stand Up 4 Transportation day, which a collection of transportation organizations created as a national push to gain federal funding for transportation system maintenance and expansion.

“The residents of the state deserve reliable and affordable public transit, and we really need federal funds to help us keep moving,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis told The Daily.

The RTA, which includes Metra, Pace and Chicago Transit Authority, has a lack of resources to fund its capital projects, which include rehabilitating stations and expanding transportation lines, Gillis said.

Metra needs more money to finish replacing ailing bridges along the Union Pacific North Line, a railroad that runs from Chicago to Wisconsin and passes through Evanston. Although the project is about 25 percent complete, Metra is counting on federal money to finish it, Gillis said.

The RTA system, which covers six counties, has the second-largest transit operation behind New York based on passenger miles traveled, according to Metra.

“In my hometown area, where we have the third largest manufacturing district in the nation, we need the infrastructure to attract new businesses and support our local companies,” Dold said in a RTA news release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure we pass a robust and long-term transportation funding bill.”

Another Metra project in need of federal funds is Positive Train Control, a safety system Congress mandated all commuter railroads install, Gillis said. Durbin praised President Barack Obama for including in his proposed budget $825 million to help implement the project, along with other investments in transportation infrastructure.

Metra has started issuing bonds in an independent effort to bolster its finances, Gillis said.

“We can’t do it alone,” he added. “We need our partners in Washington and Springfield to help out.”

Durbin announced on Wednesday $2 million of funding from the federal Department of Transportation to construct a railroad underpass in Springfield that will support the Chicago-to-St. Louis system, according to the RTA. Two days later, Durbin and other state politicians also announced an additional $7 million of federal, state and Chicago funds to renovate Union Station.

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