Pritzker, Lightfoot tout gains for mass transit
Rebuild Illinois capital plan attacks $30B backlog in repairs, says RTA head Kirk Dillard
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised the gains to be had in mass transit from the Rebuild Illinois capital plan Monday as the governor continued his barnstorming tour across the state to tout the $45 billion investment in infrastructure.
“Frankly, it’s all in the name — Rebuild Illinois,” Pritzker said in a midday news conference at Chicago Transit Authority headquarters. He added that the $45 billion to be invested in Illinois infrastructure over the next six years is intended “to repair what’s broken and to build what’s needed.”
Citing passage of the first major capital bill in a decade as an “incredible achievement,” Kirk Dillard, a former Republican leader in the General Assembly who’s now chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority, said it would enable the agency to address an estimated $30 billion backlog in needed repairs across the system, and would actually allow the RTA to get out in front of those scheduled repairs.
“Better funding means better rides,” he said, adding that a sixth of the state’s population takes the RTA on a daily basis — 2 million rides, 750,000 of those on the CTA, the rest on Metra and Pace. Dillard said he expected the money to help upgrade equipment — like the Metra trains he typically rides, which were delivered 60 years ago during the Eisenhower administration.
Calling mass transit “the economic equalizer for all our communities,” Dillard said, “Where transit goes, the economy and the community grows.”
“Infrastructure is not just an investment in physical buildings, but also an investment in the people,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She and Pritzker touted how the plan would produce hundreds of thousands of jobs statewide, with Lightfoot proclaiming it would also allow Chicago residents to get to and from jobs across the city and usher in “a new wave of opportunity and prosperity.”
“This isn’t just an infrastructure plan,” Pritzker said. “This is a job-creation plan the likes of which our state has never seen.”
Pritzker began his statewide tour explaining how Rebuild Illinois would affect the state on Friday, and on Monday he continued on with events scheduled in Rockford, Chicago, and Waukegan. He said the plan was intended to address “years of disinvestment and years of passing the buck” on “neglected maintenance at state facilities.”
The governor said it would not just provide funding for mass transit in Chicago, but also the long-planned high-speed-rail line between Chicago, Springfield, and St. Louis, as well as resumption of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities and Rockford. He added it would also pay for a new state crime lab in Joliet, as well as expanding high-speed broadband across the state.
Pritzker defended the hike in the gas and cigarette taxes that will provide funding to float capital bonds. He pointed that, if the 19-cents-a-gallon gas tax had been indexed to inflation when it originally passed in 1990, it would be more than the 38-cents-a-gallon it’s being raised to this year.
“We’re not only talking about transit here,” emphasized state Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, the House majority leader. He pointed out Rebuild Illinois includes money budgeted for improvements in higher education, affordable housing, and hospitals, among many other areas.
Calling it “an ‘everyone wins’ bill,” CTA President Dorval Carter said, “Governor, you delivered.” He added that it would enable the CTA to perform critical track repairs, while also making all CTA train stations accessible to the disabled across the system.
Omer Osman, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said it would benefit bridge and highway projects across the state, including a $561 million plan to restructure the Kennedy Expressway on Chicago’s North Side. “Please pardon our dust over the next few years,” he added, “while we rebuild Illinois.”