CTA gets $900 million windfall for capital spending - finally

Gov. Pat Quinn finally signed the $31 billion capital spending bill, with about $900 million set aside for the CTA. It’s the first real state capital spending law in 10 years.

A total of $2.7 billion will fund (pdf) all Chicago-area public transit over five years, including Metra and Pace. “leveraging up to $2.7 billion in additional federal funds,  according to the Illinois Jobs Now Web site.

I haven’t been yet able to find an updated account of how the dollars would be allocated among projects.

The state will pay for the capital program with higher motor vehicle fees and higher liquor taxes. The state will also legalize video gambling in bars and other venues.   


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  • I think you have this big $26 billion capital bill confused with the prior $3 billion capital bill that was signed a couple months ago. Those projects were announced in connection with that, as well as $1 billion for transit, 90% here. The Tribune announced that Quinn hadn't signed off on the transit bonds for the first bill. In fact, you had reported about the first bill; those numbers were for that bill, not this one.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, I think you are correct in that I had the "mini capital bill" confused with this bigger one. So I just deleted that portion of the post. I will continue to look for details on how the money will be divided up. Sorry of the confusion.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm guessing this will go to one of the line extensions, perhaps the red? Maybe some track/station/infrastructure improvements as well. It's not everything we need, but it's a start and we can get some matching federal dollars too.

  • In reply to jack:

    I wouldn't call this a windfall, I'd call it money for basic maintenance now a decade overdue and completely inadequate to Chicago's transit needs. The only way this money can be "leveraged" to get federal funds is if it's committed to the New Starts projects that are eligible for matching grants in the federal transportation bill. But basic maintenance has been put off for years and will eat up all the money - there isn't enough extra to even start any of the expansion projects we need: the Red, Yellow, and Orange Line extensions, the Gold Line, the Crosstown El (Mid-City Transitway), the massive but important Central Area Plan transit projects, the Cook DuPage corridor projects, the list goes on. Springfield really missed an important opportunity here.

  • In reply to jack:

    After searching around, I finally found the official citations for the two Capital Bills:
    Public Act 096-0004 Mini-Capital Bill
    Public Act 096-0035 Capital Bill.

    You have to search for "Chicago Transit Authority" to find the Capital Bill appropriations. Basically on page 87 of 123 in PA 96-4; 70 of 255 for PA 96-35.

  • In reply to jack:

    Chris, this money will not go to a line extension--they're still in very preliminary engineering or something.
    Jake, I'm pretty certain that the way some of this money gets used is to match with Federal dollars. Now, that's already existing Federal dollars that have been waiting for an Illinois match, so it's not new dollars, so maybe that's what you meant. New Starts would in fact be the only pot of money (big pot, that is) that a State/Local could get if it comes up with a viable project.

    If you look at the two bills, and sum them up you get:
    Pace: $0.2B. (7.5%) CTA: $1.4B (51.7%) and Metra: $1.1B (40.8%). These must come from some very old forumlas that still exist and basically take the thinking out of how to spend the money, which is just more signs that there is no one, in a position to do anything, who is thinking about changing these formulas, and in fact, is just plain thinking.

    For anyone out there who thought (either hopefully or fearfully) that the governmental domination of the Democratic majority in Illinois and the so-powerful Mayor Daley meant a new era of tax dollar largesse flowing to Chicago and CTA--you would have seen it in those percentages--and you don't.

    In fact, the bills give the money to RTA, but then guarantees how much each agency gets. In other words no one trusts or wants RTA deciding these things, either. And RTA, for its part, never goes on record critiquing these formulas or even professionally suggesting an alternative. Maybe they have mumbled something about spending the money where there is the most need, the normal thing to do, but then that would give more money to CTA and upset the heavy-suburban Board RTA. If they have mumbled it; you haven't heard that recently.

    The non-profit world (CNT, MPC, Metro2020) if they are saying anything, don't get any press. They're too busy planning statues to Daniel Burnham. [If there ever was a time for a "big plan", I don't know when it would be, but now.]

    You may think that 51% of the capital dollars for CTA is a good thing. IT IS NOT. Everyone knows they have the most need and CTA provides the most meaningful benefit to the region, much more than 51% (a debate for another time).

    In other posts I have been critical of CTA for not getting its operating budget in order (and those issues may be what causes Mr. Madigan to repeatedly sell the CTA short on the capital dollars--who knows?). But it clearly has a good case to sell that its investments will do more for the region by saving operating expenses and making this region more green and livable.

    Metra on the other hand, absolutley needs to figure out another way to fund its capital side, before CTA gets asked to keep doing more with less. It has the political and suburban financial base and a customer base that can fund itself. But it has it's snout deep into the trough of the tax-payer and it's about time that they get held to a tougher standard before they just keep getting their 40% everytime new money is found. Ridiculous!

  • In reply to JMan01:

    "Chris, this money will not go to a line extension--they're still in very preliminary engineering or something."

    I believe the red line is the furthest along in the planning stages and probably the most needed rail extension. It is in or just finished Phase 3 of their studies. I don't know what comes after that, but I still think some of this money could go towards that.

    I do think you are correct about the Metra. They do have a lot of track miles, but are they subject to the same budget restrictions as CTA? I forget the #'s, but isn't it 45% of the CTA budget has to be from revenue (tickets, etc)? It seems like I've never heard of a DoomsDay scenario from Metra. Why do they get 40% of the money? They certainly don't provide 40% of the transit rides, especially if you're talking about weekends. Don't get me wrong, I think Metra is great and wished more people rode it, but the numbers are off.

  • In reply to JMan01:

    With regard to the breakdown, you are right that it is formula. The most recent Pace minutes so indicate. Of course, Pace takes the inconsistent position that their share should be increased because they now have Chicago paratransit, but then they later note, and the bill provides, that a separate allocation was made for Chicago paratransit.

  • In reply to jack:

    Doesn't matter if the federal matching grants are new or old, the agencies will have to choose between using their money to capture those funds or using it to do necessary maintenance. It's an impossible position - either sacrifice the future to the present and lose a lot of money in the process, or allow the existing system to deteriorate so that it can be expanded.

    To bring the system to a state of good repair and get started on all the essential expansion projects, Chicago transit needed $10 billion. We got barely a quarter of that. The anti-tax insanity paralyzing state politics, combined with car-centric complacency, is crippling our ability to prepare for spiking energy prices, global warming, and growing congestion. But this isn't even part of the public debate. It's just pathetic.

  • In reply to jack:

    Why does the RTA exist anyway? Was it created as a political reward for someone? It seems to me they don't really serve a useful purpose other than spending money that the three transit agencies could better benefit from.

  • In reply to cmcphate:

    The RTA was originally created in 1972 because CTA was then realizing that it could no longer operate out of the farebox (the first big cuts, which properly did away with redundancies between the inherited surface and boulevard routes, were in 1973), and the private suburban carriers, both bus and train, were quickly going bankrupt. Some, like in Evanston and Wilmette-Glenview, actually stopped service, while others were on their last legs. On the train side, the Milwaukee Road and Rock Island, if not yet in bankruptcy, were sure close to it. The Illinois Central was petitioning the Interstate Commerce Commission to raise its fares 150% because the current recovery rate was supposedly imperiling interstate commerce.

    In that all sorts of areas were forming RTAs, I wonder if there was a federal quid pro quo (i.e. you get funding if you centralize planning). That, I don't know for sure.

    Anyway, at that time, the RTA's sole purposes were to raise taxes and enter into service agreements with the CTA and the private carriers.

    The actual bankruptcy of the Milw. and Rock got the RTA into the train business, although there were reports that the C&NW managed some of it for a while. (Again, I don't have personal knowledge of the latter.)

    With the 1981 transit crisis, most of the private bus companies (West Towns, Suburban, and South Suburban Safeway) were taken over by the RTA, sometimes sneakily (there are court reports that Safeway gave up its franchises before the RTA board actually authorized paying for them).

    Then, there was the 1981 transit crisis, the causes of which I am not sure, but mostly attributed to Jane Byrne, resulting in the 1983 bill setting up the current structure, which was slightly altered in 2008.

    However, the current structure, with 40+ directors among the four boards is clearly political. No one wants to take the CTA away from whoever is da Mare, and suburbanites don't want da Mare running their systems. There were also the 2008 deals in which Stroger was given appointments to the RTA and Metra boards, in return for the collar counties getting more. Of course, any time the RTA was put to referendum, it was handily voted down in the collar counties, but in those days, Chicago easily outvoted them.

    I now advocate (seeing that the 2008 legislation could not and did not work) that a setup similar to the NY MTA would be better. They need only 17 directors for bus, rapid transit, rail, bridges and tunnels. You could have operating subsidiaries for city bus and rapid transit, suburban bus, commuter rail, and paratransit,* but there is no need for political boards to oversee each (as the CTA Board proves almost every month).

    * I don't believe that the 2005 deal giving Pace responsibility for all paratransit is politically viable, and a separate arrangement for that will eventually be made.

  • Since, looking back at your prior post, it also seems confused, here is a link to the Daily Herald, which seems to sort it out.

  • I pretty much agree with this. Metra owns sprawling track on at least 3 divisions (Milw., Rock, and Electric) and apparently has to pay for track maintenance on UP lines that are not used for freight. Apparently their federal money is not sufficient to buy any equipment, and mostly goes to that maintenance. I'm sure Chris wants to confront the riders on the South Side and south suburbs who are still waiting for potties (as well as the real issue of the cost of maintaining electric cars obtained in the 1970s).

    The Auditor General had found that Metra riders past Zone E underpay their fares, but not much else to fault Metra on finances. Of course, Zone E is approximately the Cook County line, so, as usual, the suburban Cook County residents are the ones that get it put to them.

    Also, after looking at chicago-l.org, I want to amend my prior post in that the RTA was authorized in 1972. Since their server does not like outside linking, I suggest clicking History/CTA in the Auto Age for a description of conditions leading to the original and 1982 RTA Acts.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't know why I keep saying 72 for 74. Maybe the resident doctor of psychology on this forum can explain it.

  • In reply to jack:

    MK: "It is like complaining to your employer because they provided smaller travel compensation for a business trip that took 30 minutes than they did for a co-worker who travelled to St. Louis."

    But what if you're more productive on that short business trip than the guy going to St. Louis? You may gripe that he shouldn't go at all? Or, what if your short trip is on a road full of pot holes and construction delays that costs you time and money, that your employer doesn't remimburse you for? Meanwhile Mr. St. Louis zips by airplane with door-to-door cab service? You have a gripe.

    Who knows how best to divide up these capital dollars?

    We could debate on-and-on as to what's more important to the region as far as what the agencies provide and come up with all types of arguments (longer distances doesn't impress me, however). Instead of arguing does CTA deserve 52%, instead frame it as why does Metra automatically get its 40%? If you think of transit as more than just rush-hour commuting, CTA is clearly more critical to the vibrancy of the city and hence the region.

    But why not based on need? Need meaning the assets that need the most renewal and the most investment? Isn't that always how any business or household would make the decision? It saves you the most money. This lack of investment in CTA is costing us more money.

    Why haven't those capital formulas not changed in 20 years? Is it a sign of some sophisticated policy analysis based on transit usage or miles of assets or passenger miles? Of course not. It's not policy at all, but pure laziness and geo-politiking.

  • It is probably best if you read the report yourself, which is still online.

    Of course, the stuff about not taking credit cards came up a year or 2 after the 2007 report.

    I was talking about how Metra was then accounting for its money, not policy issues.

  • MK,

    I have the issues you describe with the reply. The way I get it to work (in Firefox 3.5) is hit reply, reload page, then hit reply again. Then it works somehow...

    As for the Metra, I understand that they have more miles of tracks, but the same rationale could be given for funding highways more too. Not many people agree with that reasoning around here.

    But essentially, my point is that I never hear from Metra that they plan to cut service and routes if they don't get money. That says 2 things to me. They either manage their money very well or they are in pretty good shape financially. Or both. Either way, I think SLIGHTLY less should go to CTA and SLIGHTLY less to Metra. And perhaps they should raise their fares outside of Zone E like the Auditor General mentioned to help pay for the miles of track they need to maintain.

  • The only thing I can say concrete is that Metra is supposed to get $1.2 billion out of the two bills, and says that it needs $585 million just to replace the Electric District cars. There were other statements that they probably need 60 conventional cars, which, at $3 million each, would be another $180 million. So, $700 m of the $1.2 b is covered just in those two items.

    CTA always talks about its unmet capital needs, now supposedly in the $7 billion range, but there does not seem to be any prioritization of them (in fact, the interview said that Rodriguez was just looking into doing that).

    So formula, or even no formula, it appears that Metra has gone further in justifying its grant than CTA. Anyway, all three agencies are supposed to have a 5 year capital improvement plan and program (CTA's is on page 25 of the 2009 budget), so if the formula doesn't jive with that, the agencies should have presented their 5 year programs to the legislature before the capital bill was passed.

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