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Study: Public Transit Infrastructure Desperately In Need Of Funding

By Mike Brockway | December 10, 2012 5:25pm | Updated on December 10, 2012 5:32pm

CHICAGO — A new study released Monday by a commerce group argues that unless more money is devoted to improving local mass transit, businesses and jobs will flee.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in indirect costs for residents through lost productivity and more time wasted in traffic could also result if area mass transit needs are ignored, the study said.

"Tending To Transit" was released Monday at DePaul University's downtown campus by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Based on research by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University, the study was co-authored by DePaul scholars Joseph Schwieterman and Laurence Audenaerd. The two looked at  findings from 40 reports and studies spanning nearly 20 years.

Public transit has profound effects on the local economy, jobs and even property values, but inadequate investment in infrastructure could have a grave impact on the city's and region's economies, the study concluded.

The main goal of the study was to bring transit spending on capital projects to the attention of state lawmakers, the authors said.

“Lawmakers should understand transit is having a tremendous year," said Schwieterman. Local public transit ridership is up about 32 percent since 2000 and up 5 percent in the past two years, he said.

Schwieterman, a transportation analyst and DePaul professor of Public Service Management, said lawmakers “shouldn't see transit as sick but as a real gem. “

“But from a capital standpoint, we're seeing things that don't work," he said. "That's the paradox here. Transit ridership is up but its foundation is crumbling."

Schwieterman says investing in public transit produces a substantial return on investment to the local economy but that there's dangerously little capital investment currently being allocated for infrastructure improvements — some of which will be needed as early as next year.

"Transit investment pays off," said Schwieterman. "We found every dollar in investment translates to between $1.21 and $1.90 in direct benefits. We look at the outlook for capital funding and see real danger signals out there."

The study found property values near public transit had risen 5 to 20 percent and that public transit indirectly accounted for an estimated direct job gains of 41,000 regionally.

Audenaerd, Schwieterman's co-author, said that a consistent stream of funding of around $2 billion a year is needed to keep public transit infrastructure sound.

"One of the things that needs to be established is a reliable funding stream to get to a state of good repair," says Audenaerd, a DePaul visiting professor.

"$2 billion is the threshold we need to overcome some of these issues."

The study estimates total combined funding for capital investment for CTA, Metra & Pace for 2010 was $1.4 billion, with only $800 million allocated for 2011 and 2012.

The CTA infrastructure is in need of major capital investment and work but "right now we're doing one [CTA] line at a time," said Schwieterman.

"This approach will not cover the system quickly enough.  We don't see a solution without Springfield or Washington. Right now, I don't see things looking really good," he said.

When it comes to securing this type of large scale funding from state government, Illinois Chamber of Commerce president Doug Whitley said it was “premature” to answer that question right now.

"Where's the money?" Whitley asked rhetorically. "It's premature to ask that because all the research work to determine that is not finished. I would postpone revenue discussions until early in  the new year when legislators are back in session."