The Future of Mass Transit in Illinois

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I like to look at the Chicago landscape as an RTA web where two dollars allows me to navigate through the city on speedy trains and rumbling buses. The reality, unfortunately, is that our beloved public transportation system is aging and in desperate need of repairs and upgrades to be punctual and reliable.

Some projects are underway, such as the Slow Zone Elimination Project on the Blue Line and Red Line to replace wooden railroad ties with cement ties to allow trains to travel at speeds of 55 mph or more.

Such projects can help boost ridership on the CTA and can have impacts for decades to come, especially with Chicago now dedicated to a 2016 Olympics bid. Unfortunately, the CTA, Metra and Pace have a combined $226 million budget shortfall for 2007 alone. Without money, our transit agency will be forced to stop capital improvements, increase fares and reduce service by mid-September if the situation is not rectified.

Senate Bill 527
increases funding by raising sales tax in the six county area and the real estate transfer tax in Chicago. The House Mass Transit Committee approved the bill 15 to 4 with bipartisan support.
Governor Blagojevich says that he will veto the bill
as written because he does not approve of the funding sources. Supporters plans to bring the bill before the Illinois House on Tuesday to obtain a veto-proof majority.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center
and the
are asking people to contact the Governor and State Legislatures to support Senate Bill 527.

Unfortunately, it's tough to convince a farmer in downstate Illinois to pay taxes to subsidize public transit in Chicago. The challenge for transit advocates is to make everyone in Illinois understand that their prosperity depends on the economic powerhouse that is Chicago.

Mass transit is a tool that powers our society, plain and simple, and it deserves the same level of financial commitment that we give to industries like farming and energy production. Once this idea has been driven home, it becomes a lot easier to stomach something like a one percent tax increase.

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