According to a study released by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), mass transit providers in Northeastern Illinois do not receive the funds necessary from federal and state sources to address reinvestment needs.
RTA says this underinvestment in recent years has led to a multi-billion dollar shortfall in mass transit funding, delaying new equipment purchases and infrastructure improvements and is projected to increase over the next decade without a significant increase in the amount of capital funding.
The RTA’s Capital Asset Condition Assessment Report provides an overview of the current physical condition and 10-year capital reinvestment needs of capital assets owned and operated by the RTA, Chicago Transportation Authority, Metra and Pace as of December 31, 2013. According to the report, transit providers in Northeastern Illinois will need $1.66 billion per year over the next 10 years in order to fund normal replacement, rehabilitation and capital maintenance needs. Nevertheless, in recent years, the amount of capital received from federal and state sources has been lacking.
In addition to the $16.6-billion needed over the next 10 years, the region has $19.5 billion of deferred investment (capital backlog). This amount, combined with the growing 10-year needs, has created a $36.1 billion region-wide capital need over the next decade. The capital needs of the CTA account for 62 percent of the regional needs while Metra’s capital needs account for $32.4 percent and Pace’s capital needs account for 6.3 percent.
The level of capital investment the region will receive in state and federal funds is estimated to be between $563 million and $765 million annually over the next 20 years; this is half of what will be needed to assure the region’s capital backlog does not grow. Most recently, the Services Boards have supplemented federal and state funds with federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovate Act (TIFIA) program, issuance of State of Illinois bonds and local funding. While federal formula funding sources are relatively predictable and stable, the availability of federal discretionary, state of Illinois and local funding sources is not reliable for capital programming purposes. Based on these projected annual average capital funding levels, the current backlog will grow over time, potentially increasing from $19.5 billion as of December 31, 2013 to more than $25 billion in 2030.
The report highlights that the consequences of maintaining the current level of underinvestment in mass transit in Northeastern Illinois are significant and imminent.
“With the Chicago area operating some of the oldest equipment of any mass transit system in the nation, it’s critical that significant reinvestment is made to attain and maintain our system in a state of good repair,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “CTA, Metra and Pace are operating well, especially when compared to other cities, but without upgrades and repairs, it will cost the Service Boards more in the long run to operate day to day. The only way to meet the needs of our region is through a reliable source of funding so our transit systems can continue to deliver efficient, reliable and safe service.”
Recently, the RTA and Service Boards have been proactive in attempting to address the capital underinvestment in the system. To provide assistance in the short-term, the RTA Board of Directors recently approved preliminary funding estimates that allow the agency to issue up to its full bonding capacity through 2017. In addition, each Service Board is issuing bonds, taking out federal loans and/or exploring alternative financing options.
The RTA developed the Capital Optimization Support Tool in collaboration with the Service Boards with the goal of ensuring financial viability for public transportation in the region.
In addition, to encourage more capital funding, the RTA organized the Getting America to Work (GATW) coalition less than two years ago. GATW is a broad coalition of commuters, businesses, officials and transportation agencies that support vital investments in public transit and advocate for the capital funding necessary to bring America’s public transit systems into a state of good repair.