Proposal to create transit "superagency" has little support

The head of the Regional Transportation Authority on Wednesday said the idea to combine the CTA, Metra and Pace systems into one "superagency" is pretty much a non-starter with little to no support, according to the Sun-Times.

Gov. Pat Quinn's Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force is recommending that the RTA be eliminated and one agency be created with three operating arms - CTA, Pace, Metra. From another Sun-Times story:

An outside consultant recommended the New York model, saying it encourages more regionwide planning. Many variations of it are possible, noted Ashish Sen, the working group’s chair. One lawmaker has proposed dividing up the single regional agency into offices overseeing buses, commuter rail, rapid transit and paratransit for the six-county region.

A second model would place oversight of the CTA, Metra and Pace in the hands of a new office within the Illinois Department of Transportation and eliminate the RTA board.

The new office would have the power to withhold funds to force agreement between what has sometimes been bickering agencies, to coordinate regional plans and to implement major capital projects. Funding would be allocated according to a formula that would include performance to eliminate the “endless battle” over RTA discretionary funds that occurs every year between the CTA, Metra and Pace, said Sen, who also sits on the CTA board as a gubernatorial appointee.

Power at the three transit agencies is now so consolidated and mixed up in city and suburban politics that I certainly don't see this happening.

But it will be fun to watch and see it all shake out.
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  • The first essential problem is that Emanuel is not interested in giving up whatever political perk it is to run CTA through a puppet rather than as required by the MTA Act.

    You can compare Claypool's statements with those of Oberman at Metra, in that Oberman says he is independent. Of course, Metra is a mess, and Emanuel only gets one appointment there.

    I was wrong only in that I said that the committee wouldn't come up with anything,for such reasons as the second appointment was Carole Brown, the only peep out of her is not to take away the salaries of the 47 board members. Apparently the committee came up with something, but there isn't the legislative will to clean the quagmire.

  • In reply to jack:

    Also, rereading the article, it apparently is Gates's opinion, and he's a lame duck. His views on bonds is also inconsistent, in that Metra has the statutory right to set its own fares, while he apparently is saying to pay for the bonds out of fares. On the other hand, the RTA held up a CTA budget a couple of years ago because it was mortgaging fares and sales tax anticipation to the teeth.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, you mention that Rahm gets only one Metra board appointment. Of course his appointment of Oberman is now the chair, so a little more power.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The issue isn't power per se, although unlike the RTA board, one vote can't block the other 16.

    The real issue is the difference in attitude between someone who claims he is independent and someone who admits that he is a tool, works only for the mayor instead of an ineffective board, and figures that he doesn't have to listen to anyone, post a President's Report, or apparently even attend a board meeting.

  • '“From the point of view of efficiency, economy and effectiveness, that can make a lot of sense,’’ [RTA Chairman John] Gates said of the idea.'

    This is Illinois. We don't do efficiency, economy, or effectiveness.

  • In reply to johnpseudonym:

    Which again is the whole problem. The point here is to hand out political jobs, and it hasn't been demonstrated (although Carole Brown assumes) why we need 47 board members when the NY area gets the job done with 17 (including bridges and tunnels). In such cases as Gates the CT Board, and at least the past Metra board, it is highly questionable whether they know what they are doing.

    In the meantime, despite CMAP, this area doesn't get its share of funding, has planning grants only for the purpose of employing consultants, and does a crummy job of coordinating service, other than CTA withdrawing from outlying parts of the city. Based on how the 2008 legislation was watered down, that is intentional on the part of the General Assembly, which is the paragon of what we don't do.

  • Transit in this city is really a mess, isn't it? We've got a system designed for a workforce in the late 1800's. I could throw up on a map of Chicago and come up with better coverage than the current system with its numerous gaping holes, and ridiculous overlap.

    The fact that a city in the northern climates does not have direct connections to local rail transit at all major commuter rail stations, thus requiring travelers to hike outside in subzero weather, is astonishing. At a minimum, there should be an underground people mover or light rail running north/south under Clinton that connects Ogilvy and Union stations to the Blue Line at Congress and a new station at Fulton.

    Conventions are a big part of our economy, but there's no simple way to get from the airports, or the downtown hotels, to McCormick place. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association's CrossRail Chicago proposal is the only thing I've seen resembling a step into the 21st century.

    Lastly, we have no program for capital improvement, so we ride around on trains and buses packed like sardine cans, with no relief in sight. Any purchases we do make are not expanding capacity, but rather simply replacing worn out equipment. The stations we have are falling apart, never mind the ones that should be built, but can't for a lack of funding.

    Basically, we have no vision. A city that gave us the Burnham Plan can't swing anything larger than bulldozing a lakefront airport these days.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    On the direct connection, there was a proposal about 10-15 years ago for a three level arrangement under Clinton, which would have included a rapid transit subway. I guess just another thing that Daley threw out there without any intention of doing anything about. The Circle Line proposal seems to have had a similar motivation of connecting CTA and Metra, but seems equally dead.

    However, Ogilvie/Union isn't the worst example, as there is an entrance to the Union platforms on Madison facing Ogilvie. The real mess is that there aren't direct connections with LaSalle or Randolph stations. I remember one time being in Ogilvie when someone asked how to get to the Museum of Science and Industry, and my directions were an accurate but somewhat confused combination of take any bus on Washington and then either transfer to the Electric at Randolph or a 6 bus on State. That was before #10, but you would still have to get to State.

    On your capital improvement point, the agencies have been saying for about 15 years that there were about $20 billion in needs just to get to a state of good repair, and I guess we are now seeing what happens when what was spent really did nothing to cut into that.

  • In reply to jack:

    LaSalle used to have a direct connection to the LaSalle Van Buren L Station, but that was eliminated for the Board Of Trade expansion & now LaSalle St. Station is a pathetic joke & you have to go down to street level & then go back up for the trains.
    There used to be the Northwest Passage from Northwestern Station to the Clinton/Lake L Station, but that took up Track 1 & has been gone for at least a decade.
    The Madison St. entrance to Union requires the ability to walk up or down a long, long stairway, but there's no reason why the bridge over Canal St. couldn't be altered & extended to have a direct connection to the Madison entrance.

    The Green Line should be moved east south of Roosevelt & go to Soldier Field, The Field Museum & McCormick Place.
    The CN wants to abandon the St. Charles Airline & the CTA or city should acquire it by eminent domain for that purpose.
    South of McCormick, the L would move to the abandoned tracks of the IC Mainline & continue to Kensington, which was the plan in the mid 1960s, when the Dan Ryan Line was under construction.
    I', sure they could get the feds to ignore the lifespan requirement of the South Side Mainline reconstruction for that & then there's no need for the Red Line to go to 130th St.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Hey Scooter. Thanks as always for your great historical perspectives.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    On the Green Line, the issue isn't so much FTA lifetime, as that it appears that it and the Orange Line are subject to financial leases.

    At least as far as McCormick Place, that was proposed several times, probably most notably in the multimodal/defunct [pick your term] Monroe Circulator, which would have ameliorated the Randolph problem I previously mentioned.

    I still contend that borrowing $200 million for a $240 million 95th St bus terminal overhaul is a waste unless it is an admission that the Red Line is not going to 130th or even 115th. But apparently the RTA is either o.k. or not o.k. with the CTA going further into debt.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    And also since you bring up the Green Line, the current Milwaukee-Blue Line project, despite the fanfare, seems to be the band aid job that the Green Line one was, and apparently also the half billion blown/spent on the Brown Line.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    At least with LaSalle you can cut through the concourse in the 440 S LaSalle St building and stay warm and dry until exiting out onto the covered staircase on Van Buren.

    The MHSRA's CrossRail Chicago would use the Airline to connect O' Hare to Union Station to McCormick Place with a new connection at the Airline/Canal. This would allow travelers into O' Hare to take an express Metra train from the station near the new rental car center all the way to McCormick place in 30 to 40 minutes. So, no go on getting rid of the SCA.

    I agree that the Green line should be moved to the CN/IC tracks, as it currently parallels too closely to the Red Line. 'Just another redundancy that doesn't make sense in today's world.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The Green Line is the only hope of actually developing transit oriented development on the South Side. TOD will not occur around stations in the center of a highway. Tearing down the Green Line would be as shortsighted as building a subway in the middle of a highway.

  • In reply to ArchiJake:

    One has to wonder about the prospects for development on the south side when the city is giving away lots for $1, at least in Englewood, which is served by the Green Line.

  • In reply to jack:

    It's a chicken and egg thing, is it not? It's hard to attract businesses and residents when public transportation is lacking. Unfortunately, I see the Green line as more or less redundant in its current location. As Scooter notes, a realigned Green line (along the CN/IC) would make much more sense, directly serving Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and ultimately, the far south side. This makes a lot more sense than extending the Red line, given that the CN line already exists. The corridor has 6 tracks, and room for more. I don't believe CN uses this capacity, as it's a holdover from the days when the IC had a railyard at what is now Millennium Park. The big negative with this plan is that the Green line would basically augment the Metra Electric line. I guess this points to the need for a single agency overseeing transit. The green line could terminate at McCormick place, with transfers to the Metra Electric for trips south.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I've dismissed the "chicken and egg" approach in other contexts, or more accurately dismissed "if you build it they will orgasm," including with respect to the ME. Essentially, if transit were sufficient to bring development, the whole Green Line south of 35th area should be better developed than it is. There were representations such as that Garfield would become a superstation, but people don't even want to park at its lot. I asked if any entrepreneurs were taking advantage of the transfer traffic there during the Red Line project, and apparently only one did. Reports are that the U of C is just landbanking the area.

    I agree that one agency would better coordinate service, but the McCormick Place idea seems long dead (other than Emanuel's Cermak-Wabash station). That's going to have to hang around until the TIF pays it off.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    There's plenty of room to add the CTA to the IC Mainline. It once had 10 tracks, making it the widest rail line in the world. Now there are six tracks.
    There were two local commuter track, two express commuter tracks, two long distance train tracks & four freight tracks
    Two of the freight tracks are gone as are the two long distance tracks, those Amtrak trains now share the express commuter tracks up to the Airline, where they go west to Union Station as do a number of CN freights, which use the Airline to go to the Burlington tracks..

    The original late-1960s plan was for the IC to eliminate most of their stations from Roosevelt to Kensington & the CTA L to pick up that service. The IC commuter trains would have only stopped at 18th St [only for Soldier Field events], McCormick Place, 59th, 79th or 87th & then Kensington. There was supposed to be a free inbound transfer to the L, but I can't remember about how it was to be done outbound.
    If I had several hours to waste, I'd go to the library & search through the microfilms for the front page Sun-Times article where this was.

  • In reply to jack:

    Interesting, Scooter. It would seem that keeping the Metra Electric south of McCormick Place, and running the Green Line to McCormick would make more sense today given the amount of money it would take to build the Green Line out to Kensington.

    The CREATE plan has a project that will build a connector at Grand Crossing between the NS and CN, allowing Amtrak and BNSF to use NS trackage south of Union Station, and picking up the CN line at the junction. (Project P4: This will eliminate Amtrak's need for the backing move at the Airline, as well as eliminate the need for the Airline.

    The MSHRA's CrossRail Chicago proposal ( calls for the building of connector at the NS/Airline junction, eliminating the need for the Grand Crossing connector, and keeping the Airline as the vital link for Metra express trains between O'Hare and McCormick. I assume both connections would be useful, with the Grand Crossing connector being utilized by CN and BNSF freight.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I don't know what Scooter will find in microfilm, but I am not aware of any plan in the last 40 years to "build the Green Line out to Kensington." As I mentioned, there were various proposals to build subways or circulators and the like to McCormick Place, with another leg up essentially Columbus Drive to Streeterville. However, those were declared "defunct" by 1995.

    But, as I mentioned above, the construction of the Cermak Green Line Station indicates that the Green Line isn't being relocated.

    As far as anything on the ME right of way, the argument was made on other transit boards that Metra is supposed to be a suburban service, and the only reason it has not abandoned the South Chicago, Kensington, and Blue Island services is that various politicians and former residents of the community would yell racism. But other than CAPS/CMAP listing some proposals to, for instance, convert the South Chicago branch to LRT or stick an LRT in the median of Stony Island Ave., nothing that agency has included in its "30 year forward" plans of that sort (or any transit expansion) has come to fruition, which again supports my point of why we have a planning agency that doesn't effectively plan. And I am sure that any proposal for a Metra train before O'Hare and McCormick place is even less credible than Daley's for a maglev.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:


  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Jack, I would imagine that the Green Line proposal would have been more than 40 years out, as part of the Red Line construction in the 60's.

    'Not sure what you're saying about the Metra train and O'Hare/McCormick. The CrossRail plan is a new proposal, and makes a world of sense to me. They're already planning to add additional through tracks at Union Station, and with a simple connector at the Airline, Metra would be able to provide 30 minute express service from O'Hare to Union Station, and McCormick Place.

    I totally agree that there's little or no planning within the current agencies. McCormick Place has been in existence for 54 years, and there is still no easy way to get there directly via public transportation. Pathetic.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Again, I don't recall anything like that. At the time the Dan Ryan project was constructed, the only representations were that it would take pressure off the south main, and extend service to 95th. Apparently, it took too much pressure off the south main.

    When the Green Line rebuild was proposed in the early 1990s, the planners then suggested only to rebuild stations on the south main not served by the Red Line (i.e. Indiana, 43rd and 51st). That resulted in the immediate predictable "you'll make us walk through adversary gang territory" complaints and was eventually killed, even though it took a long time to replace Garfield.

    And my point about the supposed Metra project was that just because someone proposed something doesn't mean that it is likely to be built, especially since this would be pretty much an in-city project, except to the extent NCS tracks would be used, but CN isn't willing to allow an expansion of passenger service on its tracks, and nobody is offering to pay Metra to operate the service.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I know exactly what I'll find in the microfilm.
    The plan, now almost 50 years old to eliminate the entire Jackson Park/Englewood trackage, known as the South Side Mainline & to rebuild it along the IC Mainline so that the IC would end most local service & the CTA L would take over that service.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Scooter: If any such plan existed 50 years ago, it died at least 45 years ago.

    I can more easily find references to a 2003 Sun-Times front page with the Circle Line on it, but all mention of that disappeared approximately in 2010 (last CTA reference to it on its Planning and Expansion page is Sept. 2009).

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    These are great observations Spiny. Couldn't agree with you more.

  • If it works in New York, it can work in Chicago.

  • All right, I don't quite get why somebody wants to get rid of the RTA and make a new RTA, except that it must be about ulterior motives.

    I don't know what the most effective thing to do would be, but I will say this: Sometimes "more efficiency" is not what you want, because it allows someone to more "efficiently" do exactly the wrong thing without anyone noticing or challenging until it is too late. Sometimes "bickering" and "battles" are what's needed. Those terms can stand for what's supposed to happen when someone says "hold on a minute, why are you guys doing this?" They have to make a case for it that will hold up. And it may turn out there's a good case for not doing whatever it is or doing it some other way.

    What I think we want and need when monopolies, governments and bureaucracies are involved is a setup that provides for accountability, obtaining feedback from major stakeholders, checks and balances, and transparency. Sure there will be arguing. And at least it will take place at the point where it may make a difference, rather than when it is too late.

    I'm sure some of you will say "it'll never happen" but I can dream, can't I?

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    The problem is that the only power the RTA has is to bicker. That has been typified by the 5 Emanuel appointees blocking a budget for two straight years. It apparently also has the power to say that sales tax collections are not coming in as budgeted, so the 3 service boards must cut budgets, which it did several times in 2007.

    I don't think there is anything ulterior in that what at least got Quinn's attention was the political corruption at Metra, apparently courtesy of our ineffective Attorney General's stepdaddy. However, as usual, Quinn is playing this both ways, in that his appointee to both the Task Force and the CT Board realizes that this model of "governance" does not work, but Quinn doesn't realize that this appointee is not qualified to be on the CT Board. Apparently Quinn has not made an appointment after his political payoff to the Thornton Township trustee of an appointment to the CT Board and another $25,000 got stymied.

    But it sure is strange that we have planning agencies that don't plan, a transit oversight board with no power, and 3 service boards that fight with each other.

    I may not be kidding when I suggested to let the Pace board run the whole thing.

  • In reply to jack:

    here is an actual worthwhile representation of how restructuring could be done in a way that holds services accountable to their current riders, while making sure that the different services actually integrate schedules, fares, and infrastructure.

  • In reply to ArchiJake:

    Thanks for providing the reference.

    That seems to be going in the correct direction. However, given past governors' track records on appointments to the CT Board, I wonder about giving the governor all appointment authority, only subject to approval by 10 of 15 members of an advisory board. Also, I don't see the need for a committee, as opposed to an executive director, to run the operating divisions. While I agree that paratransit should be a separate operating division, I don't about rapid transit, because the one thing that was accomplished since first discussed in the 1930s was integrating the bus and rapid transit systems. What seems necessary is to figure out the proper role for the commuter rail system with regard to integration and service overlap.

  • Jeff Wood wrote a post in The Overhead Wire in December ("") about why cities sometimes bypass regional agencies to undertake local transit projects (specifically Cincinnati's streetcar line). In it he expresses my own reservations about any transit "superagency" in northern Illinois:

    "These massive regional transit agencies are typically stacked with suburban board members that don't always have the core cities needs at heart. They are usually concocting schemes to extract money or service in some form or fashion from the more transit willing neighborhoods in the region ... Right or wrong, the city streetcar movement is a function of the neglect that center cities feel when it comes to regional transit priorities. The core might be the economic engine for the region, but the fiscal extraction continues."

    State Senator Biss's proposal, cited by ArchiJake in a comment yesterday (, seems to address these concerns to some degree. It's balanced and reasonable enough, anyway, to have no chance of being considered.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    I'm not sure what the relevance of the article is, as SORTA is the one regional transit provider on the Ohio side of Cincinnati (TANK takes care of northern Kentucky commuters into Cincinnati).

    Maybe it is something like even though LACMTD is the regional transit operator for LA County, LADOT provides the Little Tokyo bus shuttle. But then you have the mess in Chicago that some projects are CDOT while others are CTA, and apparently Emanuel does not distinguish between the two.

    The federal government requires that all grants go through some regional planning process, which here is CMAP, but as the confused mess over the Illiana Expressway being included in the 2040 plan indicates, the process here is a complete mess.

    The objection here is that CTA, Metra, and Pace fight over an insufficient allocation of capital. Maybe if CTA and Metra got their acts together, but it doesn't appear that they will. However, LA and San Francisco also have the problem that the regional rail provider is not under the transit provider.

  • What I was picking up on in the article was the more general sense that cities can easily end up shortchanged when transit governance goes regional. I'm not prepared to make that into an argument for the status quo here, which indeed is a complete mess; to me it's more a reason to be skeptical and to push for as much representation for the city as we can get. And you're absolutely right, of course, that the total allocation for transit here is insufficient, and that is a central problem.

  • In reply to rastewart:

    But then you get down to the point that any apportionment, based on population, results in Chicago getting only 1/3, whether in the Biss proposal, or the current apportionment of the RTA, Then we get to essentially the Carole Brown point that the 2/3rds should be paying for the 1/3rd, and take the scraps, essentially reenforced by the 5 Emanuel members of the RTA board blocking the other 12 in trying to pass a budget for 2 years, unless CTA got all the discretionary funding. In the meanwhile, the reported "transit deserts" are near OakBrook or the I-90 corridor, and reverse commuters are basically only served on the Metra Milw N and Pace Shuttle Bug system.

    The 2008 RTA legislation was basically shepherded by North Shore legislators (some of which, like Mathias, were reapportioned out of their seats by the Madigan cabal) and included such stuff as if the CTA wants a tax to bail out its pension fund, the city can impose it (the real estate transfer tax).

    Emanuel knows he isn't going to get any sympathy in the suburbs so long as he runs the CTA in the current manner. Biss, being from Evanston, probably better reflects suburban sentiment.

  • Maybe Pres. Preckwinkle's Cook County Transit Study might have some effect:

  • Nice way to get someone to click on a link for the same old same old that has been dead for at least 9 years.

  • In reply to jack:

    It is posted on Pres. Preckwinkle's Cook County comment board; if they didn't want a 9 yo dead thing there they wouldn't have posted it.

    And the participants of her Study Committees seem drawn from a much larger a more varied group, some of whom even might be independant of the same old same old Chicago politics.


    So Jack, what do you think of this statement by Stephen Schlickman (former RTA Head) 6 days ago......

    "CTA and City spokespersons don't get it. The current structure is bureaucratic nightmare with four separate transit agencies, four boards of directors and 47 board members and four transit CEOs. As to the Chicago Mayor's accountability, who held the last mayor accountable for the CTA's wasting $220 million on a block 37 super station that was never finished and sits as a white elephant hole in the ground. With one agency there is only one board of directors and one CEO. It will be clear who is accountable for screw ups like Block 37, failing to implement a universal fare card, failing to eliminate duplicate service, properly funding the civil right based paratransit for the disabled, setting rational regional fare policies, etc. etc. Also under the current structure, CTA should not expect future funding increases from suburban and statewide taxes as it now receives. Without clear input into the CTA governance from their jurisdictions, why should any suburban or downstate legislature support such a scheme".

    He reflects my sentiments exactly......

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