Washington Needs to Focus on Increased Long Term Investment | OP-ED

As our Congressional delegation returns to Illinois for a month-long recess, public transportation systems across the country and here in Chicago are urging passage of a long-term transportation bill. The current funding extension will expire on October 29, 2015, and the U.S. Senate has moved forward with the first step in the process by providing funding for a three year transportation bill.  Now the focus is on the U.S. House of Representatives and it’s time for them to recognize the real benefits of investing in our transportation infrastructure, especially public transit, by passing a bill that provides six years of funding to help grow our national and local economies.

We know that where public transportation goes, communities grow. For every $1 invested in our public transportation infrastructure, there is $4 in economic benefits. On the national level, more than $227 billion in economic productivity is at risk to the nation’s economy over six years without long term federal investment in public transit. This national issue has a real impact locally, benefiting residents of Chicago in many ways, including improving access to jobs, supporting economic development and encouraging long-term growth.

In 2014, transit ridership reached record levels with nearly 11 billion rides taken nationally, according to APTA.  The RTA (Regional Transportation Agency – Chicago) reports that ridership in its six-county region in 2014 was more than 640 million. Over the past 15 years, the RTA has leveraged federal, state, local and its own dollars to fund 241 public transit-related projects, totaling more than $139 million throughout the six-county region.

Recent Public Transportation projects throughout Chicagoland include:

McHenry County
$120,000 – The McHenry County Services Restructuring Study recommended transit improvements that are currently underway such as the restructuring of Pace Route 806 along Route 31 to ensure it serves shopping, senior and social service centers.

Kane County
$80,000 – The Elgin Chicago Street Station Area Plan provides a vision for transportation and development enhancements such as multi-family residential development and making it easier for cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians to get around Elgin’s Metra Station.

Will County
The RTA collaborated with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to assemble a panel of developer experts that provided guidance on how to attract more transit-friendly partnerships around the Manhattan Metra station. One suggestion is to partner with local businesses to market events and activities for community gatherings like a community garden, farmer’s market and antique fairs.

Lake County
$1,000,000 – Job Access and Reverse Commute and New Freedom (JARC/NF) and Section 5310 funds to provide seniors and individuals with disabilities door-to-door transportation service to access jobs and for employment opportunities.

Cook County
$118,000 – The Cicero Connections Plan includes a transit-friendly community, focusing on the town’s Metra station, CTA stations at Cicero Ave. and 54th/Cermak and a host of Pace and CTA bus routes.

Read more about the Regional Transportation Authority.

Americans recognize the benefits of public transportation, economic and otherwise. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association and the Mineta Transportation Institute, 75 percent of Americans support using tax dollars to improve public transportation, and close to 70 percent agree that Congress should increase the level of investment in public transportation infrastructure. Americans realize our infrastructure needs must be addressed with long-term solutions. While other nations significantly invest in their infrastructure, America now ranks 28th in infrastructure investment and continues to fall behind our global competitors. Is 28th really the best America can do?

Maintaining the condition of our public transit infrastructure is an issue of critical importance – to our community and our nation.  Investment in surface transportation infrastructure is far below what is needed to meet demand and to keep our systems in a state of good repair.  The short-term funding packages that have characterized the last decade of transportation investment are not sufficient to support the growth and development of robust and efficient public transportation systems across the country.

Sample letter and contact information for your member of the House of Representative

We urge lawmakers to pass a long-term revenue source this year that increases investment to support our nation’s transportation infrastructure – including public transit.  To join us in support and to contact our Congressional delegation, please visit voicesforpublictransit.org.

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