June 1, 2005

SPRINGFIELD (June 1)—It may look like just another shuffling of acronyms on an organizational chart—for now at least: Something called “CATS” and something called “NIPC” will merge to become the “RPB.”

But within a couple of years that that new organization could mean more commuter trains in the Chicago area, more freight railroad jobs, and a boost to the region’s economy.

Under H.B. 3121, which passed the State Senate 57-0 and was sent to the governor for his signature, the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) are to be integrated into a single six-county urban-planning organization to be called the Regional Planning Board.

“This merger of the two planning organizations is appropriate and will have a positive effect on our railroad jobs,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “As a former Vice Chairman of the Mayors Executive Committee for CATS, and as a former mayor of a community that is a longtime member of NIPC, I see real merit in this consolidation and the linking of transportation planning with land-use planning.”

Under federal law, all metropolitan areas must have a professionally developed transportation plan in place before they can receive federal assistance for highways, mass transit, low-income housing and other large infrastructure projects. The plan must be approved by a local Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO. The MPO also must review and approve any federal grants before a unit of local or county government can receive them and start spending the money.

Unlike most cities, however, Chicago grew up with two planning agencies. CATS served as MPO and planned transportation and distributed the federal grants, while NIPC dealt with land-use and development issues.

“There was a real disconnect,” Szabo. “The development didn’t necessarily take place where the transportation was being planned and funded. With a tighter link now between transportation and land-use planning we will see more housing growth linked to Metra growth and a better utilization and growth of freight rail in lieu of having trucks clogging our highways.”

Chicago Metropolis 2020, a civic group formed to strategize on the future of the Chicagoland region, led the agency-consolidation effort and worked closely with the region’s public officials to craft the legislation that brought it about. Government organizations participating in the process included the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Metro Counties and Illinois Department of Transportation. UTU’s Szabo serves on the Metropolis 2020 Executive Committee.