RTA chief says more money needed for transportation system
By Hank Beckman For The Sun August 14, 2012 3:08PM
RTA Executive Director Joe Costello addresses the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce at the Hotel Arista on Monday, August 13, 2012. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 16, 2012 6:18AM
If people want a good transportation system in the suburbs, it is going to cost money.
That was the word from Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Joe Costello, who spoke to the Naperville Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee Monday about the need for increased funding for regional transportation.
The RTA’s primary responsibilities include financial and budget oversight of CTA, Metra and Pace, as well as overseeing regional transit planning issues.
Costello said that just needed maintenance on current transportation systems far outstrips the money available.
“We need $24.6 billion to achieve substantial maintenance (over the next 10 years),” he said, while also noting that only about $7.8 billion was currently available.
Costello said that every $1 billion invested in transportation supports 24,000 full-time jobs. Because of that, he believes that the funding available for maintenance is inadequate in a time when job creation is crucial.
To highlight the need for increased investment, Costello produced figures showing that approximately 25 percent of vehicles currently operating in the region were operating beyond what is considered their life span. That means there are a lot of people who should be using public transportation, he said
“But we don’t run anything that’s not safe,” he said of the RTA’s own stock of vehicles, in an effort to reassure many in the room who regularly use public transportation.
Part of the revenue coming from taxes on gasoline goes toward highway and road maintenance and other forms of transportation spending. But with more fuel-efficient vehicles available to motorists, and the high cost of gasoline having an impact on driving, tax revenues from gasoline sales have grown at a slower pace than before, he said.
Also, Costello said that the percent of revenues for transportation spending coming from federal sources “hasn’t moved in years.”
Costello acknowledged that different regions of the country had often worked against each other in the past in the competition for transportation dollars.
“There’s been a little bit of a conversation between the big cities,” he said. “If we work together, maybe we can expand the pie.”
One audience member asked about security on commuter trains.
“We have improved security since 9/11,” Costello said, pointing to bomb-sniffing dogs and undercover officers as evidence that the RTA is concerned about safety.
Another questioner wanted to know why the quarter percent RTA sales tax increase of several years ago didn’t solve the problem of funding regional transportation.
Costello said that the increase was targeted at funding operational costs but stressed that the crucial problem today revolves around paying for maintenance and new capital projects.
According to Costello, if people want more spending on transportation projects they need to get involved. He said local organizations need to work together to make transportation funding a priority.
“We’re endeavoring on a national solution,” he said.