FINAL DRAFT Letter to the Editor
February 4, 2010
We have every reason to celebrate the start of a Midwestern high speed rail network. It is a bold and uplifting vision of our future. But CTA’s and Pace’s new service cuts paint a darker picture, and remind us of the sorry state of transit in metropolitan Chicago.
The economy of metropolitan Chicago, and the State of Illinois, would benefit far more from an investment in transit rather than high speed rail. We know that most of the money for high speed rail comes from the federal government and that we were smart in getting more than our fair share. We can’t, however, let federal priorities distract us from what is most important to us -- fixing our transit system.
The Midwest’s most productive knowledge-economy network is right now linked together by hand-me-down trains and buses running on a decaying infrastructure. Metra, Pace and the CTA make up the nation’s second largest transit system – that connects 645 million riders a year to their jobs in metropolitan Chicago. We can not even maintain the existing system, let alone think about expanding it to serve new customers.
Our regional transit system is the enabling technology that has turned metropolitan Chicago into a single labor pool and empowered our regional economy to re-invent itself into a global economic contender. While connecting by high speed rail to Detroit and St. Louis will benefit Chicago the priority St. Louis leg is projected to increase ridership by slightly more than 300,000 a year over current ridership of half a million. In comparison, in the next couple of decades we need to double annual transit ridership – to about 1.3 billion riders a year – if we are to avoid an economic choke hold caused by traffic congestion.
Since the early 1990’s the federal government has been the only consistent transit capital funder, annually providing about one-third of our region’s capital needs. But that is at risk unless Congress and the President approve a new transportation bill. The state of Illinois has produced a capital bill only once a decade, including last year’s allocating $2.7 billion for Chicago region transit. But metropolitan Chicago’s transit system needs $1.4 billion every year just to maintain itself – and $2 billion a year if expansions and improvement are to be made. Our studies show the state’s economy would yield between $1.21 and $1.64 for each public dollar invested in transit.
Now is the time to invest in building Illinois’ future economy. Investing in metropolitan transit will provide the biggest economic and employment bang for the taxpayers’ buck.
George A. Ranney
President & CEO
Chicago Metropolis 2020