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Chicago3rd Feb 23, 2007 2:52 PM

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/l...l=chi-news-hed

TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE

Audit: Overhaul the RTA
State report says the mass-transit agency is hobbled by weak leadership, skewed priorities, wasteful duplication
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By Jon Hilkevitch and Richard Wronski
Tribune staff reporters

February 23, 2007

Oversight of mass transit in the Chicago region is deeply flawed, hobbled by weak leadership, competition instead of cooperation between the transit agencies, wasteful duplication of services and skewed priorities, according to a state audit report.

Illinois Auditor General William Holland's long-awaited report, obtained by the Tribune, calls for a top-down overhaul of the Regional Transportation Authority system just as the RTA is pleading for a major increase in state funding for Chicago-area transit.

The performance audit agrees with the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace that public funding over the years has been insufficient to support the level of transit services provided--producing a broken- down, financially stressed system.

But as the General Assembly prepares to address what the RTA and the three transit agencies portray strictly as a funding crisis, the audit said more money alone would not remedy many core problems.

Those issues include the CTA's underfunded employee pensions; transit salaries and benefits that are among the highest in the nation; rampant absenteeism at the CTA; and the lack of strong, centralized planning, the audit found.

"The RTA needs to take more of a leadership role in all aspects of transit," the audit said, adding that the oversight agency may need more authority from the legislature to get the CTA, Metra and Pace to fall into line.

"Given the dire financial situation facing the RTA and the service boards, the current planning process and structure is flawed," the report said.

The audit called for an end to the transit agencies fighting each other for customers, routes and federal funding for pet projects that may not fit into an overall regional transit plan. It recommended that the transit agencies re-examine system expansion plans and focus on bringing the system into a state of good repair.

The audit also recommended revamping contracts and procurement policies to get more for the dollar and making better use of surplus properties.

For instance, the top floor of the CTA's sleek new headquarters--34,000 square feet that the transit agency had planned to rent out--is unoccupied, the audit noted.

The audit's findings, already distributed to legislative leaders, the RTA and the three transit agencies, are expected to be the subject of a House Mass Transit Committee hearing Friday in Springfield.

Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston), committee chairwoman, said she planned to introduce legislation Friday addressing some issues raised by the audit. Her bill, creating a new role for the RTA, has bipartisan co-sponsorship, she said.

"I myself have been critical for eight years of the role and authority of the RTA and have always believed we need to provide some new responsibility and authority with respect to regional planning and coordination," Hamos said.

The audit report noted that the CTA's retirement plan, which was only 34 percent funded as of January 2006, is in "extremely poor financial condition and is deteriorating at a rapid rate." The pension plan's liabilities are projected to hit $4 billion by January 2009, and the value of assets is expected to decline to $800 million by that time, when the plan is expected to be only 20 percent funded if no changes are made. Absenteeism among CTA bus and rail operators costs about $46 million a year, the audit said.

The CTA and Pace have been working for more than three years to jointly buy bus fareboxes, the audit said, adding, "It is not clear that this procurement will produce a contract."

The report, still in final draft form, set a Thursday deadline for the transit agencies to submit written responses. Holland is due to issue the official report next month as state lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich weigh possible transit operating subsidies and a multiyear capital improvement program for mass transit.

RTA and transit officials declined to comment on the audit findings Thursday.

The RTA is leading the drive in Springfield to obtain $10 billion in new capital-improvement funding for the RTA system over five years and $400 million a year in operating funds.

Also, the CTA, Metra and Pace are counting on the state to provide $226 million in new operating subsidies for 2007 to avert service cuts and fare increases as early as summer.

Among the recommendations, the audit proposed that the General Assembly consider revamping how political appointments to the 13-member RTA board are divvied up between Chicago and the collar counties. A change to reflect demographic shifts in the region since the creation of the RTA in 1974 could increase the influence of the five collar counties.

Currently, appointees to five RTA board seats are named by the mayor of Chicago, four seats are filled by officials in suburban Cook County and three by the collar counties. The collar counties may be entitled to an additional member, the audit said, based on the 2000 census.

The audit also noted that one seat on the RTA board is reserved for the CTA chairman, but the chairmen of the Metra and Pace boards are not represented.

"The General Assembly may wish to review the composition of the RTA board," the audit said.

Holland's report advised the legislature to look at strengthening the RTA's role in financial management; decisions about daily operations and long-term capital-improvement planning; coordination of fares and technology; and how the transit agencies' performance is measured.

But the report also indicated that the RTA, whose responsibilities include financial oversight of the three transit agencies, does not effectively use the muscle it already has.

"The RTA lacks clear performance measures for itself and for the service boards," the audit found.

It cited Metra for not reporting its on-time performance record and ridership levels on the commuter railroad's Internet site.

Chicago Metropolis 2020, a non-profit civic group that advocates better planning and regional cooperation, welcomed the auditor general's recommendations.

"People who live in all parts of the region want the RTA to work for them," said Jim LaBelle, deputy director of Metropolis 2020. "The point is having someone accountable for producing results. Right now, no one is."

Pointing to conflicts and redundancies, the audit report said that coordinated fare policies are practically non-existent and that the CTA and Pace on some routes, such as along Harlem Avenue and in Evanston, compete against each other for bus riders.

Combining some operations would result in efficiencies that would enable CTA and Pace to provide new services to customers and to devote more resources to maintaining aging fleets, the report said.

The CTA, Metra and Pace operate many buses and rail cars that are older than the average age of fleets of similar-size transit systems, the audit said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have been warning transit officials that transportation funding is only one of at least five "mega-fiscal problems that are being brought to Springfield in 2007," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Majority Leader Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

The RTA and the transit agencies should be prepared to provide improved accountability and accept reform in exchange for financial help, Brown said.

A spokesman for House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego put it more bluntly.

"We want to make sure the transit agencies are running as efficiently as possible regardless of whether we are adding money or not," said Cross' spokesman David Dring. "We need to address the wasting of taxpayer dollars."

----------

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

rwronski@tribune.com
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Taft Feb 23, 2007 4:35 PM

I would have used different highlights...

Quote:

The performance audit agrees with the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace that public funding over the years has been insufficient to support the level of transit services provided--producing a broken- down, financially stressed system.

...

Those issues include the CTA's underfunded employee pensions; transit salaries and benefits that are among the highest in the nation; rampant absenteeism at the CTA; and the lack of strong, centralized planning, the audit found.

...

For instance, the top floor of the CTA's sleek new headquarters--34,000 square feet that the transit agency had planned to rent out--is unoccupied, the audit noted.

...

Among the recommendations, the audit proposed that the General Assembly consider revamping how political appointments to the 13-member RTA board are divvied up between Chicago and the collar counties. A change to reflect demographic shifts in the region since the creation of the RTA in 1974 could increase the influence of the five collar counties.

Currently, appointees to five RTA board seats are named by the mayor of Chicago, four seats are filled by officials in suburban Cook County and three by the collar counties. The collar counties may be entitled to an additional member, the audit said, based on the 2000 census.

...

Pointing to conflicts and redundancies, the audit report said that coordinated fare policies are practically non-existent and that the CTA and Pace on some routes, such as along Harlem Avenue and in Evanston, compete against each other for bus riders.

...

The CTA, Metra and Pace operate many buses and rail cars that are older than the average age of fleets of similar-size transit systems, the audit said.

...

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have been warning transit officials that transportation funding is only one of at least five "mega-fiscal problems that are being brought to Springfield in 2007," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Majority Leader Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

...
I think the fact that they haven't rented out the office space at CTA headquarters is unacceptable. This part of the plan was the reason I was behind the new headquarters in the first place, as it helps recoup a lot of costs for the new construction.

Similarly, the absenteeism is appalling. However, the union contracts the CTA has been trying to get out of for years is a big reason for this, IMO. I think it also contributes to their pension woes. About the pensions and old equipment: to me its just a sign that the CTA doesn't get enough money. If they were well funded, these things wouldn't be the huge problems they are.

And all of the stuff about lack of coordination at the RTA has been problematic for years. IMO, it is mostly due to the infighting between CTA, Metra and Pace. None of them can agree, so they all go off and do their own thing. Then we suffer their inability handle tranfers, and their wasteful duplication of service.

About the restructuring the RTA board: this spells *disaster* for Chicago. Even though the citizens of Chicago are the biggest customers of transit in the region, they are already under-represented on the board, IMO. Putting more say in the hands of the collar counties, who *only* care about commuter rail, is going to make support and expansion of a more comprehensive network in Chicago near impossible.

And as much as I'd like to support a strong centralized RTA, this is exactly why I am so wary of it. Given their track record and stated intentions, I do not trust the collar counties to adequately address transit problems in the region. They are focused on a small portion of the larger transit issues seem to resent the very existence of the CTA. To be honest, I blame them, to an extent, for some of the current woes at the CTA and in the region in general.

Taft

Chicago3rd Feb 23, 2007 4:54 PM

But we already knew the parts you highlighted. We all agree on them. They are in the news and on the CTA webpage. And we all agree they need to be fixed, I even said I am willing to pay higher fares and higher income tax.

BUT

The part I highlighted was my concern that was being ignored in discussion....even denied.

For us to ever get the billions and political support we all want we need to clean house and reorganize CTA and the other agencies like the tribune said...like I stated over and over again.

schwerve Feb 23, 2007 7:41 PM

Quote:

the lack of strong, centralized planning, the audit found.
refers specifically to the RTA, and its inability to coordinate amongst the 3 different transit agencies, it doesn't mention the CTA management so doesn't really support/deny and argument made on the board. I don't think I've seen anybody here defend the RTA management yet, and rightfully so.

VivaLFuego Feb 23, 2007 10:11 PM

Certainly, I think the case for a regional approach to strategic planning (for example, New Stars expansions) is self-evident.....this sounds like a good step, it means transportation is definitely on the radar for discussion this Spring.

mikeelm Feb 24, 2007 12:59 AM

I think money should just be spent on fixing up the CTA and not these expansions.

I aslo think Aldermen like Bernie Stone shouldn't get pay raises either which probably makes things worse.

Hope that old fool gets voted out of office.

MayorOfChicago Feb 24, 2007 11:41 PM

The Trib is talking about this Crosstown Expwy as if they're starting construction tomorrow. How can this guy blurt it out (obviously without researching much) and suddenly the paper is talking about it like fact.

God forbid they do that with a transit plan.

ardecila Feb 25, 2007 12:03 AM

OK... first of all, I know we're a bunch of urbanists here. But I think shifting the balance of power a little bit more towards the suburbs is a good thing. Chicago's suburban transportation links matter just as much as the in-city ones - perhaps more. More dedicated will to introduce better public transportation in the suburbs is the first step towards public transportation's getting accepted in the suburbs.

Why SHOULD most suburbanites give a care about the Circle Line or a Crosstown connector line? It doesn't help them. Things like the STAR line might. Basically, if an open forum is opened for discussion and suburban concerns get treated fairly and do not get kicked out in favor of CTA expansion, then a more fair deal will come out for all parties involved, Chicago and suburbs together.

As for the whole workforce thing: CTA absolutely NEEDS to get it together. Why the hell is absenteeism so high if job benefits are among the best in the country? In the world of private business, the companies that offer the highest salaries and benefits attract the most talented, dedicated people.

Obviously, this happens because job security is a give-in and employees take advantage of it. Unfortunately, there's no good way to deal with a union without running the risk of a massive strike.

Busy Bee Feb 25, 2007 12:19 AM

Quote:

Why the hell is absenteeism so high if job benefits are among the best in the country?
Laziness, greed, entitlement, oh yeah, and piss poor attitudes. I've said it before, some super-efficient international transit management needs to come in and go Gung Ho on the CTA.

the urban politician Feb 25, 2007 1:21 AM

^ Laziness, entitlement, and a piss poor attitude... sounds a lot like the people who work around me (the unionized wage workers, that is, not my professional colleagues).

I used to be pro-union, but time has turned me bitter against them. They drove employers out of the US, and they've created an entire generation of lazy, fat slobs.

To hell with them.

Rail Claimore Feb 25, 2007 3:32 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by the urban politician (Post 2650470)
^ Laziness, entitlement, and a piss poor attitude... sounds a lot like the people who work around me (the unionized wage workers, that is, not my professional colleagues).

I used to be pro-union, but time has turned me bitter against them. They drove employers out of the US, and they've created an entire generation of lazy, fat slobs.

To hell with them.

What many pro-union non-union people just don't understand is that unions have outlived their usefulness and become corrupt in their own rights to stay alive. Unions were originally meant to demand safety standards in dangerous jobs such as mining, heavy manufacturing, etc. But to see them in government agencies today is especially ridiculous. The worst offenders of them all are the teachers' unions. Yes, teaching is a dangerous job. :rolleyes:

ardecila Feb 25, 2007 4:07 AM

Well, unions were formed not just to protect against occupational hazards, but also as a way to combat all the absolute SHIT employers stuck their workers with and got away with it. (Ever read The Jungle?)

In this day and age of personal and class-action lawsuits and government regulation, the union is obsolete.

BVictor1 Feb 25, 2007 11:38 AM

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/l...l=chi-news-hed

In the cross hairs of the Crosstown?
Expressway talk stirs hopes, fears. Memories of original plan still live in city.

By Ron Grossman and Rex W. Huppke
Tribune staff reporters
Published February 25, 2007


Judging from the time-worn sign above his cluttered upholstery shop window, Ernest Meyer seems an unlikely spokesman for change.

The sign announces: "Uphol eri g." He figures it's been there long enough that people either know the Jefferson Park business or they don't--why change?

Yet when politicians last week revived a more than 40-year-old and seemingly long-dead plan to run the Crosstown Expressway past Meyer's shop, he thought it made sense.

He and his family have been re-covering sofas in this small space on Milwaukee Avenue since the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of an expressway came and went, beat down in large part by opposition from Meyer's neighbors and others along a portion of the route that roughly parallels Cicero Avenue from the North to the South Side.

The changing images along the route--used-car lots lined with beaters and groceries filled with ethnic delicacies, vibrant businesses and vacant lots--resemble Hollywood's version of a classic big-city thoroughfare.

But turn onto the side streets and the landscape becomes more uniform. Block after block is lined with the simple and squat brick homes that define a swath of Chicago called the Bungalow Belt. It's a part of the city largely unknown to lakefront dwellers and out-of-towners. For the people who live there, the bungalows and tiny yards are their small share of the American dream.

Yet now, as was the case several decades ago, there is the possibility of change, politicos chattering about a mammoth expressway that could rend some communities and bring life to others.

This grand experiment could all begin in Jefferson Park, right outside Meyer's upholstery shop. He knows many fear the proposal, but he sees it as a key to growth.

"People in the future will like it," he said. "But now, maybe not."

Jefferson Park, like many neighborhoods along the proposed path, has changed considerably since the original idea was championed by Mayor Richard J. Daley in the early 1960s. At that time, the far Northwest Side community was only partially developed, its tree-lined streets looking more like a suburb than an urban neighborhood.

But now the city has caught up. The populace has become a mix of young professionals, Hispanic immigrants and Poles. Condos and lofts have sprouted among the traditional frame cottages and storefront apartments.

Moving a mile and a half down Cicero, more of the same is happening in Portage Park, which boasts a booming shopping hub that has survived the arrival of suburban malls.

Ted Szabo, president of the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce, doubts his neighborhood would embrace Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposal.

"I can't imagine it helping property values having an interstate running through the community," he said. "I just can't foresee people being very happy about that."

The chamber offices on Irving Park Road are in a business district known as Six Corners that was the heartland of resistance against the earlier highway proposal. Just down Irving Park is the LaSalle Bank, which doubles as a Saturday-night movie house, featuring films that were old when the first Crosstown proposal was defeated.

South from Portage Park, the windshield frames an increasingly hardscrabble stretch of Cicero Avenue. The din of traffic is joined by the near-constant sound of fluttering flags at used-car-dealerships. Businesses and apartments are flanked by buildings whose boarded-up windows give them the look of faces without eyes.

North Lawndale welcome

Crossing Lake Street, the Green Line trains rattle three-stories overhead. An interstate passing over that hurdle would give motorists the feel of riding a roller coaster.

Just past Interstate Highway 290, a short detour along Roosevelt Road a few blocks east of Cicero, reveals a Baptist Church in North Lawndale that would welcome the expressway as a pipeline for worshipers. It's a struggling neighborhood that has seen generations of residents migrate to outlying, middle-class communities.

Nearby boulevards are lined with former synagogues that once enjoyed the long-distance loyalty of North Lawndale's original Jewish settlers. Lovie Gordon, the Baptist church's assistant secretary, said many of their nearly 2,000 worshipers commute in for Sunday services, and could do so more quickly with a north-south highway.

When Cicero Avenue cuts into the town of Cicero, just east of the hotel Al Capone once used as his headquarters, it rolls past the Hawthorne Race Course, an almost bucolic moment in an industrial landscape.

Across the street from an array of towering cylindrical petroleum storage tanks, wedged between aging brick buildings, is the 24-hour Hot Grill, the embodiment of an urban greasy spoon.

At the corner of the Formica-topped counter, trucker Ron Bianchi hangs half off his stool and looks out the window at a familiar scene--semis fighting six lanes of traffic.

"I think it'll go through this time," he said of the expressway proposal. "You get too much truck driving through here. To go from Belmont to here, it'll take you more than an hour. An expressway would make a big difference."

Tapping a pack of Camel Lights on the counter, Bianchi, who lives in Cicero, recalled the original plan, bitterly debated by rival politicians and residents who feared displacement.

Bianchi favored it then and favors it now, but like a true Chicagoan he has no illusions about the politics beneath the pavement. To him and the likeminded, it's the price of progress.

"It was always a question of who's filling whose pockets," he said. "It's who's feeding who."

While some worry about the side effects of progress, Bianchi points out that there is a risk to not building. He believes the area just east of Cicero Avenue, along the railroad embankment that would have carried part of the expressway, never developed due to fear the road would wipe it out.

Who would invest money in land that's going to be taken away for a public works project? The answer, judging by the current landscape, is junk dealers, sawmills and body shops.

It's a philosophical issue that cuts both ways for Mark Topor, manager of Bobak's Sausage Company, which lies just east of Cicero Avenue, hard-up against the railroad tracks Bianchi described.

Many of Bobak's customers -- largely first- and second-generation Polish-Americans -- have left the neighborhood but still return to shop in an old-world atmosphere where the smells and language are enticingly familiar. Like the North Lawndale Baptist Church, the cavernous sausage shop and restaurant could benefit from easier access.

But Topor recognizes a couple caveats: "As long as we're not under the bridge or on the exit ramp."

Leaving Bobak's and moving south, Cicero Avenue winds through Midway Airport, past once-booming motels that now stand half-used and shuttered, relics of a time before much of the city's airline activity shifted to O'Hare International Airport.

But even here there are hints of change. A Starbucks stands beneath Midway's flight path, in a spot where once there more likely would have been a diner pouring coffee at a third the price.

Past 66th Street and a few blocks east is the home of Theresa Kobey, a widower who has spent the past 30 years living in a home emblematic of the Bungalow Belt. When she and her late husband moved there from Bridgeport in 1978, friends thought they were crazy--don't you know they're going to tear up the neighborhood?

Indeed, her new home would have been near the southern end of the Crosstown, just before it curved east and stretched out to the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Kobey lived with uncertainty for several years, until it became clear the expressway would never be more than talk. Standing on her front porch, overlooking a lawn statue of the Virgin Mary, she bemoaned the fact that once again a politician is eyeballing the train tracks that rub shoulders with her tiny back yard.

"I was a newlywed then, now I'm a widow," said Kobey, whose husband died in 2001. "Where would I go?"

But if history serves as any guide, Kobey has little to worry about.

In 1963, the original Mayor Daley spoke of his plan with unflagging confidence.

"There's no doubt construction will start on the Crosstown," he told reporters. "You can write that down."

Yet to this day, nothing more than trains rumble past Kobey's home, following a line that marks, for some, a nightmare never realized, for others, a dream unfulfilled.

----------

rgrossman@tribune.com

rhuppke@tribune.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28036118.jpg


http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084161.jpg
The “L” line runs above Lake Street at Cicero Avenue in Chicago, where a proposed Crosstown Expressway would be built. The idea for a 22-mile highway through the city that roughly parallels Cicero Avenue from the North to the South Side was revived in the state Legislature by House Speaker Michael Madigan on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The original Crosstown proposal was pitched by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley in the late 1970s, but got squashed by community opposition.
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084155.jpg
Ernest Meyer owns a business on Milwaukee Avenue across from the Jefferson Park Transit Center. The proposed Crosstown Expressway could all begin in Jefferson Park, near Meyer’s upholstery shop. He knows many fear the proposal, but he sees it as a key to growth. “People in the future will like it,” he said. “But now, maybe not.”
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084156.jpg
Shoppers wait at a railroad crossing on Archer and Knox Avenues east of Cicero Avenue, where the Crosstown Expressway would be built. Now, as was the case several decades ago, there is the possibility of change, with politicos chattering about a mammoth expressway that could rend some communities and bring life to others.
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084157.jpg
Crossing Lake Street two blocks east of Cicero Avenue, the Green Line trains rattle overhead. A highway passing over that hurdle would give motorists the feel of riding a roller coaster.
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084159.jpg
Theresa Kobey has lived in the 6600 block of South Knox Avenue for 30 years. When she and her late husband moved there from Bridgeport in 1978, friends thought they were crazy because of fears a new expressway would be built. She wonders what she would do if a new plan went through. `Where would I go?’
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084160.jpg
Ron Bianchi drinks coffee at the Hot Grill restaurant on Cicero Avenue in Cicero. He favors a new expressway, as he did the original plan. "I think it’ll go through this time."
(Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084158.jpg
Residents protest the building of the Crosstown Expressway on July 24, 1973 in Chicago. Public opposition derailed Mayor Richard J. Daley's proposal.
(Tribune file photo Quentin Dodt)
Feb 23, 2007

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...2/28084154.jpg
A button in 1972 opposed the creation of the Crosstown Expressway.
(Tribune file photo)
Feb 23, 2007


• Video: Travelling the Crosstown
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/l...l=chi-news-hed

Via Chicago Feb 26, 2007 5:56 AM

^^
ugh, i thought we had learned from our mistakes...guess not. hopefully its just a bunch of political hot air. heres a better idea, lets take all that money and put it towards expanding and improving our public transportation.

Taft Feb 26, 2007 4:33 PM

From today's Tribune (emphasis mine):

Quote:

Slow zones lead to Blue Line blues

CTA riders bristle over longer commutes

Published February 26, 2007

Nearly 2 miles of slow zones have been eliminated on the CTA Blue Line
in the last six months, yet riders complain their travel times are
growing longer.

That's because track conditions on the O'Hare and Dearborn Street subway
sections of the Blue Line are deteriorating faster than the Chicago
Transit Authority can fix them, officials say.

The reason? There's no money.

Work to get rid of CTA slow zones has screeched almost to a halt after
state money for capital improvements ran out three years ago--even as
Blue Line ridership was surging.

Since 1997, annual ridership has jumped by 50 million. The line is the
agency's second busiest, behind only the Red Line. The Blue Line had
about 32.6 million riders in 2006, a 2 percent increase from 2005.

Today, Blue Line service to O'Hare, which began in 1984, and through the
Dearborn subway, which opened in 1951, is unraveling into a mess of worn
out tracks and rotted railroad ties. That's causing a growing number of
slow zones and overcrowded trains.

Trains must travel slower over about one-third of those two sections.
CTA officials estimate that a trip from the Loop to O'Hare should take
no more than 50 minutes. Many riders say travel takes more than an hour.

The Red Line has a higher percentage of tracks in slow zones than does
the Blue Line--28 percent versus 22 percent overall--but the Blue Line
slow zones stand out.

Unlike the Red Line, where many stations are closely spaced and trains
don't have a chance to get up to top speed, there are long stretches on
the Blue Line to O'Hare where the normal track speed is 55 m.p.h. But
trains must travel either 35, 25 or 15 m.p.h. over bad track to ensure
safety. If maintenance crews are present, trains have to go even slower,
cutting back to 6 m.p.h.

The CTA estimates it needs $100 million to eliminate Blue Line slow
zones.

The shortfall is part of a total $500 million necessary to get rid of
slow zones on the entire rail system, which more than doubled this year
to about 185,000 feet of track, the CTA said. The agency's capital
budget provides for $62.7 million through 2011 to address the problem.

The same problem existed on the Congress and the Douglas (now Pink Line)
branches of the Blue Line until the CTA, using Illinois FIRST
capital-improvement program funds, recently conducted major overhauls.

Those branches--along with the Orange Line to Midway Airport, the
Jackson Park branch of the Green Line, the Pink Line and sections of the

Loop tracks downtown--are now classified as having no slow zones.
Meantime, the rehabilitation on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line has
cut slow zones to less than 5 percent. But 45 percent of the Red Line on
the North Side and 47 percent in the State Street tunnel still are
designated as slow zones.

"Where is the outrage over the so-called `maintenance' on the Blue
Line?" asked commuter Errick Christian. "The trains have been traveling
at 6 m.p.h. I can moonwalk to work and back faster than the darn train."

The decline in Blue Line service will continue until the General
Assembly approves a capital-improvement program for transit, said CTA
President Frank Kruesi.

"We are in a phase now where new capital funding is zero," Kruesi said.
"When the money is turned off we fall behind very quickly and it is hard
to rebound."

Trains must travel below normal speeds on almost 65,000 feet of Blue
Line track, according to the latest CTA maps. That's up from only 7,300
feet of slow zones in March 2006. The peak in the last year was
August--74,700 feet of slow zones on the Blue Line, the CTA said.

More than 10,000 feet of slow zones were eliminated in the last six
months, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.

"But as we make gains in one area, conditions may deteriorate in
another," Gaffney said.

Blue Line slow zones recently eliminated or reduced were in the subway,
west of the Clark/Lake Station, northbound near Logan Square, northbound
near Addison, southbound south of Addison and southbound near Belmont,
she said.

"We are in a phase now where new capital funding is zero," Kruesi said.
"When the money is turned off we fall behind very quickly and it is hard
to rebound."

Trains must travel below normal speeds on almost 65,000 feet of Blue
Line track, according to the latest CTA maps. That's up from only 7,300
feet of slow zones in March 2006. The peak in the last year was
August--74,700 feet of slow zones on the Blue Line, the CTA said.

More than 10,000 feet of slow zones were eliminated in the last six
months, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.

"But as we make gains in one area, conditions may deteriorate in
another," Gaffney said.

Blue Line slow zones recently eliminated or reduced were in the subway,
west of the Clark/Lake Station, northbound near Logan Square, northbound
near Addison, southbound south of Addison and southbound near Belmont,
she said.

However, new slow zones were added in both directions on the Blue Line
on a 14,193-foot stretch between Division and Grand, Gaffney said,
adding that he has 10 to 15 minutes of commuting, depending on the time
of day.

The subway work is extra costly and time-consuming, officials said,
because the rotted wooden ties that must be replaced were encased in
concrete in the '50s.

Tracks, railroad ties, fasteners and running rails that were installed
at the same time tend to need replacement all at once.

The poor shape of much of the Blue Line was discovered after stepped-up
inspections that were ordered in the wake of a July 2006 derailment and
fire in the subway section near downtown that forced hundreds of
terrified commuters to flee the dark, smoky tunnel.

Commuter frustrations also have been compounded by service interruptions
unrelated to the delays caused by slow zones.

On Tuesday, for example, defective rail equipment made contact with the
third car of a southbound Blue Line train approaching the Chicago
Station at the height of the morning rush period.

The incident stopped all O'Hare branch Blue Line trains inbound to the
Loop for 33 minutes, the CTA said.

Many riders have lost patience.

"I'd like to hear today's excuse for poor service," Andrew Pekala said
of Tuesday's delays. "Last week it was the snow and cold weather. Today
it was almost 35 degrees yet there I sat, stuck on a Blue Line train at
Damen for a half-hour because of `equipment issues.' I am tired of the
same old excuses."

A new state audit of mass transit services in the Chicago area
identified many areas where the CTA needs to make improvements, which
include increasing efficiency and cutting waste. But transportation
experts say the service meltdown on parts of the CTA system is the
inevitable result of years of underfunding both daily operations and
long-term infrastructure upgrades.

"We are nearing the end of being able to use bubble gum and bailing wire
to keep the CTA together," said David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure
Technology Institute at Northwestern University.

Schulz said he knows his views won't be popular among many CTA
customers who criticize the agency's performance, but he insists,
"The CTA can make the argument that they have done too good a job with
the available money."


headcase Feb 26, 2007 4:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Taft (Post 2652777)
Quote:

On Tuesday, for example, defective rail equipment made contact with the
third car of a southbound Blue Line train approaching the Chicago
Station at the height of the morning rush period.

The incident stopped all O'Hare branch Blue Line trains inbound to the
Loop for 33 minutes, the CTA said.


I would just like to say I was on that train.

SSDD

j korzeniowski Feb 26, 2007 5:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by headcase (Post 2652799)
I would just like to say I was on that train.

SSDD

the cta is just flat out depressing. here we are, in a world-class city, buildings sprouting up like the proverbial weeds, increased national and international exposure, and we have a crumbling transit system.

the article from last week where ms. hamos indicated that transit may be a bigger priority than at first thought/feared was heartening. now we just need springfield to follow through.

i think something that has been missing in this thread, and if it is missing because it simply does not belong in the thread, then so be it, but any of you 'old hands' at following transit, what are the best ways to get involved?

give me numbers to call, addresses to write to, representatives to call. i know there is moving beyond congestion, and i can do research on my own, but if any of you have 'pet' organizations that you work with, put them up here. i know i'll fw them around for my part.

ok, then, enough grandstanding, or whatever, then.

Chicago3rd Feb 26, 2007 5:41 PM

Wish we could get David Schulz on CTA staff. Read a few of his opinions and papers on the web. Here is one from an op-ed from the tribune:


http://www.iti.northwestern.edu/what...z-schofer.html

Avoiding CTA Armageddon

(preprint of opinion piece which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 3, 2005)

As the Chicago Transit Authority careens towards its worst set of service cuts and fare increases ever, what can we do to avoid transportation Armageddon? Some observations and suggestions:

1. The service cuts and fare increases approved by CTA April 13 cannot be allowed to take place July 17. The impact on the city, region and state would simply be too devastating. Crowded trains would be forced to bypass platforms packed with more would-be passengers, reviving memories of the 1979 blizzard. People trekking blocks beyond their normal bus stop would find more distant stops and buses jammed. Drivers would confront streets and expressways even more gridlocked and downtown parking lots stuffed. But:

2. CTA will not be bailed out by the Legislature exactly as it asks. CTA's crisis occurs at a time of great fiscal stress on the state, which has at least a $2 billion annual structural budget deficit. Plus school districts across Illinois need more funding. Under-funded highways and other financial woes also plague the state. So CTA could hardly have picked a worse environment in which to plead for state funding. Still:

3. The CTA does have a legitimate case. The transit funding allocation formula is outdated, and the funding base itself inadequate. Even after aggressive cost containment, CTA, like every other public and private entity, faces rising costs, particularly health benefits and fuel. State and regional funding just hasn't kept up. The only question is how CTA (and, incidentally, its sister agency PACE, the suburban bus operator) has been able to hold on so long. Nevertheless:

4. The CTA, itself the victim, will inevitably get much of the blame. Check the internet blogs or letters to the editor asking how CTA could have allowed this to happen. Or the legislators and other opinion makers who fault CTA for the current problem. In fact, there is undeniably a funding crisis at CTA and it has been brewing for a long time. So why are we looking at draconian cuts now?

5. Too often it takes a crisis to force us to make hard decisions. Historically, we can only make transit funding decisions in Illinois through brinksmanship. It takes doomsday to beget decision day. But forcing such important public policy decisions on the brink of disaster almost guarantees time won't permit the best approach to be developed and agreed upon, especially in the current CTA crisis since:

6. The best solution to area transit problems is a long-term, regional, multi-modal strategy. Not only is the regional transit funding allocation formula outdated, but there is a growing gap between highway needs and available funding, and questions surround how road funds are allocated. We must craft a truly regional transportation (both transit and highways) funding and governance solution, perhaps encompassing not just the RTA and CTA, Metra and PACE, but also regional planning agencies, the Chicago Area Transportation Study and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, as well as regional highway agencies, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, and District One of the Illinois Department of Transportation. While this is not a new idea, it is almost certainly not possible to reach agreement on such a long-term solution in the remaining few weeks before the Legislature adjourns and the July 17 "doomsday" looms, so:

7. An accommodation must be found. The Governor has suggested a business software tax. Representative Hamos' task force has raised the possibility of the state picking up the large and growing cost of specialized transportation for people with disabilities, possibly gaining some federal Medicaid reimbursement . Other possibilities include creatively tapping surplus RTA "capital" funds, and some combination of additional state and local funding, possibly together with modest fare increases and much more limited CTA service reductions. However:

8. There will be a price to be paid. Out-state legislators will demand a "pound of flesh" in return for any state assistance, perhaps in the form of concessions on other legislative issues and/or possibly personnel changes at CTA itself. Nevertheless:

9. Chicago and Illinois have no choice but to pay the short-term price now. Then we must resolve to move quickly and decisively to devise a real, long-term transportation funding and governance solution. No region in America depends on its transportation system for so much of its economic life blood as does northeast Illinois. The way we finance, plan and manage our transportation services and facilities is clearly outmoded and inadequate. The sooner we go about the difficult but essential task of putting in place sufficient resources to pay for, and sound mechanisms to manage, our vital transportation systems, the better off we will be. And the much less likelihood there will be that we will have to confront a similar "doomsday" again any time in the near future.

David Schulz is Director of Northwestern's Infrastructure Technology Institute and former Budget Director of the City of Chicago

Joseph Schofer is Associate Dean of Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science and Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Chicago3rd Feb 26, 2007 5:43 PM

One more link I found interesting from David Schulz:

http://www.iti.northwestern.edu/poli...esBrd_9_25.pdf

Marcu Feb 26, 2007 5:51 PM

Quote:

No region in America depends on its transportation system for so much of its economic life blood as does northeast Illinois
That cannot possibly be right.


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