Chicago Public Transit Leaders Talk Influx of State Funding

After a 10-year drought, Chicago’s public transit system is set to receive billions in state capital funding.

Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan, which allocates money for roads, bridges and mass transit across the state, including in Chicago.

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Much of that funding will come from a doubling of the state’s gas tax, which went into effect July 1.

The funding comes after years of financial difficulties for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace bus service. 

A recent five-year plan published by the Regional Transportation Agency stated that all three agencies were grossly underfunded, receiving a total average of $750 million in funding per year, when they should be getting between $2 and $3 billion instead.

The new capital bill, transit leaders say, is the first step to remedying that.

“It really starts to give us the opportunity to move the needle and start to address some of the major capital infrastructure backlog that our transit system has,” says Leanne Redden, executive director of the RTA.

The RTA oversees planning and budgeting for Metra, the CTA and Pace. The agency will distribute the funds newly appropriated by the capital bill to those agencies.

For public transit in Chicago, that will add up to about $3 billion, “split between about $2.7 billion in state bonding monies, and then a new component which is going to be about $227 million annually … that will just keep flowing to the transit systems on an annual basis, in perpetuity,” Redden says. 

But even with the influx of state dollars, Chicago’s transit infrastructure still faces a number of funding challenges. That includes a $30 billion capital backlog.

Redden says she hopes the capital bill marks the beginning of a new funding approach to public transportation in the Chicago area. 

“Hopefully this is the beginning of a new day, where the state of Illinois will keep up and be appropriating investments going forward into infrastructure,” she said.

Redden joins us to discuss how the new state capital bill will impact public transportation in Chicago, along with CTA President Dorval Carter, Metra CEO Jim Derwinski and Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue.

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