November 29, 2007

CHICAGO (Nov. 29)—The metropolitan planning organization for the six-county Chicago region dropped its historic aversion to controversy today when it admonished the governor and leaders of the Illinois General Assembly to get busy and produce a transit-funding solution before the region’s economy and prosperity suffer irreparable damage.

Both the board and the executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) called the on-going stalemate over mass-transit funding “totally unacceptable and extremely harmful to our region, both in the short and long term.”

“…On behalf of our region, we are speaking unanimously in support of a long-term solution and not some of the Band-Aid approaches that have recently been floated,” said Gerald Bennett, chairman of the 15-member CMAP board and mayor of Palos Hills. “We believe the best solution was already set forth in Senate Bill 572, as sponsored by Rep. Julie Hamos [D-Evanston]. The governor and leaders in the General Assembly need to get serious and realize they’re toying with the daily existence of our residents.”

CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn echoed Bennett’s concern, saying, “Nothing less than a long-term fix is acceptable.”

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo said the strongly worded statement issued by CMAP indicated the steepening seriousness of the transit-funding crisis and the increasing frustration of local-government leaders with the intransigence of their counterparts at the state level.

“Normally CMAP does not get embroiled in political controversy and does not issue commentaries on day-to-day political developments,” Szabo said. “CMAP is the federally designated metropolitan planning organization—the so-called ‘MPO’—for the Chicago region. Its job is bureaucratic, not political. It’s supposed to make sure that land development and transportation projects are coordinated and meet federal standards. Without CMAP’s approval, the state cannot be awarded federal matching funds for transportation projects.”

Szabo said CMAP’s departure from its usual background role indicates a concern that if state leaders do not quickly approve a transit budget, including the state match required to qualify for federal funds, the federal funds could be withheld, bringing vital transit construction projects to a halt.

“That would be devastating to the regional economy,” Szabo said. “Over the short term, these construction projects create well paid union jobs for the men and women building the new infrastructure. Over the longer term, the infrastructure these workers create provides for our jobs and gives Chicago and its suburbs a stronger and more efficient transportation system that attracts more business activity and makes the entire region more prosperous. We cannot put transit development on hold for more than a few weeks without suffering serious economic consequences.”

Szabo said Rep. Hamos’s bill represents the best solution so far to the funding crisis.

“SB 572 call for a tiny sales-tax increase—a quarter of one per cent—in the six-counties covered by the Regional Transportation Authority,” he said. “It also includes a separate quarter-of-one-per-cent tax in the ‘collar counties’ outside Chicago to enable them to go forward with $120 million in road and transit projects.

“Those are tolerable taxes that will make it unnecessary to increase fares,” Szabo said. “The bill also mandates some needed managerial and financial reforms, primarily at the Chicago Transit Authority. Those burdens also are tolerable. I join with the leadership at CMAP in urging our state leaders to approve the new transit-funding package now.”

UTU members can follow the debate and receive “Calls to Action” by going to the Moving Beyond Congestion website at