Thursday, January 17, 2013

RTA Board approves billion-dollar budget for Chicago area transportation

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board of Directors adopted the 2013 budget and two-year financial plan at a special RTA Board meeting on Jan. 16.

There was a unanimous vote by the 15 of 16 board members present who authorized the $3.7 billion budget for the RTA, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), commuter rail service provider Metra and suburban bus provider Pace.

Last month, officials from the service boards presented their 2013 budgets to the RTA's Finance Committee describing fiscal management strategies to achieve efficiencies, transit projects and challenges. The budget came before the RTA Board for approval at last month's regular board meeting but was delayed after questions arose on how the CTA would pay off debt service on up to $1 billion in bonds for their five-year capital improvement plan.

The bonding was approved by the RTA Board after the CTA detailed a plan that addressed issues such as interest rates and the repayment funding sources and schedule. Some of the projects that would be funded through the CTA bonding include track and structure repairs on the Blue Line and elevated track system wide, the replacement or upgrade of seven substations and the replacement of 706 rail cars.

"The RTA is pleased that we were able to work with the service boards to approve a fiscally responsible budget that will allow our riders to continue to enjoy the benefits of our region's transit system without interruption," said RTA Chairman John Gates. "One of the key takeaways from today's meeting is that the transit system is on more solid financial footing because for the second year in a row, critical capital funds won't be transferred to operations. The service boards deserve credit for incorporating operational efficiencies to balance their budgets on a sustainable basis."

Numerous projects will now move forward system wide funded by the 2013 budget. Major initiatives include:

• CTA: Slow zone eradication, reconstruction of Wilson Station and station renew crews.

• Metra: Highliner train cars, train car rehabilitation and the reconstruction of the Cicero and Fox River Grove stations.

The RTA predicts next year's forecast for sales tax and the Chicago Real Estate Transfer Tax, a tax that directly funds the CTA's operating budget, will be modest due to the continuing recovering economy. The RTA will continue to meet next year's budget with continued cost-saving measures and productivity improvements.

The $3.7 billion budget approved by the RTA board will authorize $2.7 billion for operations expenses for the following: the CTA, $1.358 billion; Metra, $713.5 million; Pace, $207.8 million and ADA paratransit, $148.8 million, and the RTA $41.7 million. Additionally, $962 million was approved for capital expenses of which $498 million will be spent on the purchase of new transit vehicles, maintaining current vehicles and track repairs to ensure the region's trains run efficiently and safely. The remainder of funds will be spent on other capital projects that will continue to move the transit system toward a state of good repair.

The RTA Board also adopted a five-year capital program. Capital funding will be used largely for rolling stock renewal and other projects aimed at taking care of the existing system. The transit system still needs significantly more funding for further maintenance, enhancement and expansion. An RTA asset condition evaluation completed in December 2012 determined that the system has a 10-year capital need of $30.9 billion to achieve a state of good repair.

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