Report: 21st Century Transportation

Getting On Track

Key Public Transportation Projects and Their Benefits for Illinois
Released by: Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Illinois’ transportation system is in trouble. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Illinois residents’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Illinois residents’ health and contributes to global warming.

Public transportation makes a vital contribution to Illinois’
transportation system, relieving congestion, reducing our dependence on oil, curbing pollution, stimulating the economy, and helping to sustain healthy, vibrant communities. In recent years, Illinois transit systems have made these vital contributions despite funding levels that have often threatened service and left important expansion projects on the drawing board.

Illinois needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century – one in which public transportation plays an even bigger role than it does today. To get there, we need to start investing now in critical public transportation projects.

The investment Illinois has made in public transportation helps address Illinois’ energy, transportation and environmental challenges.

* Public transportation pays dividends for Illinois residents and our economy.

· In 2006, public transportation in Illinois saved approximately 276 million gallons of oil, saving consumers $723 million at the pump.

· Public transportation prevented more than 40 million hours of traffic delay – equivalent to about 2,600 person-years – in the Chicago metropolitan area in 2005, saving the economy more than $800 million in wasted time and lost productivity.

· Public transportation is helping to reduce global warming pollution in Illinois, averting about 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2006.

* More and more Illinoisans are choosing to take public transit rather than drive. Travel via public transportation in Illinois has increased at a faster rate than automobile travel since the early 1990s – with the number of passenger miles traveled on transit jumping 20 percent between 1993 and 2006.

* Transit ridership continues to increase. In 2008, ridership on the state’s transit lines jumped 5.1 percent versus the year before, compared with a 3.5 percent drop in vehicle travel.

* However, 74 percent of Illinois residents drive to work alone while only 8.5 percent take public transportation, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities to entice new riders to transit.

Our public transit system has not kept up with growing need. Illinois residents drive more miles, spend more on gasoline, experience more congestion, and produce more global warming pollution from transportation than they did two decades ago.

* Vehicle travel on Illinois highways increased by approximately 62 percent between 1980 and 2007. This is largely due to more driving per person – the number of vehicle miles traveled per person has increased by 44 percent over that same period of time.

* Illinois residents spent about $6.9 billion more on gasoline in 2006 than they did in 1998, a product of more miles being driven in less efficient vehicles, coupled with higher gasoline prices.

* Congestion on Illinois roads has continued to get worse. In 2005, Chicago area residents spent about 202 million hours in traffic delays, while congestion cost the area’s economy about $4 billion.

* Transportation is a leading source of global warming pollution in Illinois. Illinois’ transportation system produced 40 percent more carbon dioxide in 2005 than it did in 1990.

There are dozens of worthy public transit improvements that would give Illinois residents alternatives to the rising cost of driving, reduce congestion by removing cars from the road, save oil and reduce pollution. Many of these projects have been stuck on the drawing board for decades but their importance is greater than ever.

A comprehensive transit system for Illinois would include the following (not in order of priority):

Chicago: Expanding the “L”

* Extending the Red Line to 130th Street, improving public transportation in the Far South Side to help relieve chronic congestion and spur job creation.

* Extending the Blue Line to Yorktown to meet growing transportation needs in quickly growing Cook and DuPage counties.

* Extending the Yellow Line to Old Orchard Road to encourage transit-oriented development in areas ripe for growth.

* Creating a new Gray Line to serve Hyde Park, the University of Chicago, and the South Side on existing Metra commuter rail tracks to improve public transit in a chronically underserved area.

Linking Northeastern Illinois Communities

* Connecting Chicago’s suburbs to each other through the Suburban Transit Access Route (STAR) Metra Line

* Building a new SouthEast Service Metra line to serve the southern suburbs from the South Side of Chicago all the way to quickly developing Crete.

* Upgrading Pace bus service, including through the use of bus rapid transit in areas such as the Cermak Road corridor.

Connecting the State: Passenger Rail

* Restoring Amtrak service in northwestern Illinois through Rockford to Dubuque, Iowa, to reduce congestion on I-90 and bring better transportation options to a growing area of the state.

* Making necessary repairs and upgrades to the rail infrastructure in Illinois to improve the speed and on-time performance of Amtrak trains, as well as Metra and freight rail, and to reduce conflicts between passenger rail and freight trains.

* Building on the current passenger rail system to create a fast and efficient Midwest high speed rail system that would take passengers between the major cities in the Midwest in 50 to 70 percent of the current travel time.

Illinois faces a transportation funding crisis, which could prevent the state from making the investments required to build a 21st century transit system. Illinois should do the following to address both and future current transportation needs:

· Urge the U.S. Congress to revamp federal transportation policy when the federal transportation funding law comes up for reauthorization in 2009. Revisions should include shifting resources from highway expansion to transit projects and focusing federal money on strategic goals such as transportation system efficiency and safety, energy conservation, environmental improvement, and the creation of compact, sustainable communities.

· Include $10 billion in funding over a five-year period to repair and expand transit service in the capital funding bill under consideration this year.

· Establish a long-term commitment to expand public transit, with an investment of $2 billion a year for the next 30 years in building a 21st century public transportation system – about 25 percent of the state’s current transportation budget.

· Require that all proposed transportation investments be evaluated for their impact on oil dependence and global warming pollution. State government buildings should be located, to the extent possible, in areas with accessible transit service. And Illinois should encourage local governments to adopt land-use plans and zoning reforms that allow for and encourage compact development in and around transit stations.

· Prioritize investments in public transit over new roads in plans for state transportation investment.

· Coordinate with the other Midwestern states and take a leadership role in ensuring the implementation of a modern regional rail system. Illinois should work to ensure federal investment in the region’s rail infrastructure.

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