When the General Assembly approved its capital construction program last spring, Chicago-area mass transit agencies were promised $1.8 billion in new resources. Yesterday, Greg Hinz reported that while the Illinois Department of Transportation has allotted huge sums to school and road projects since the money was appropriated 15 months ago, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has been systematically ignored.
Local transit officials tell Hinz they're staying mum because the state might issue $3.2 billion in bonds next week, some of which could be funneled into the RTA coffers. But they have a right to be angry. The road lobby continues to take precedence over mass transit in Springfield. State lawmakers have also ignored calls to establish a transit "rainy day fund," to make spending decisions based on performance measures like safety and oil use, and to reform the Chicago Transit Authority's rigid funding restrictions. At the same time, Illinois' transit infrastructure is deteriorating. Illinois PIRG says the state needs to spend $2 billion annually for the next 30 years in order to maintain and expand transit fleets as well as extend routes to undeserved communities.
But until lawmakers fix the budget mess, don't expect a sincere focus on the issue.