Monday, November 27, 2006

McCarron Drops The Ball

John McCarron takes a breezy look at the regional transit funding situation in today's Tribune. His article, "Transportation Fixes in the Slow Lane" was inspired by a CTA train delay that resulted in him missing the first inning of a baseball game.

McCarron notes the large and growing service board operating deficits and the shortage of capital funding. He offers no solutions, speculating only that a new tax such as a regional tax on gasoline or the sale of State assets such as the Tollway might be used to generate funds.

He does offer a reminder that personalities matter. In his view Jim Reilly, the head of the RTA, is a coalition builder, while Jeff Ladd, the recently deposed Metra Chairman and Frank Kruesi, the CTA's President, are too combative to build the kind of regional consensus that will be necessary to bail out the local transit system. Indeed, if published reports are to be believed, you could put Ladd (or Kruesi) in a room by himself and he still couldn't build a consensus.

McCarron also notes that suburban interests are beginning to get skittish about even the very modest suggestions in the Moving Beyond Congestion materials that land use issues need to be considered as part of building an improved transit system.

Wouldn't it be something if transit service and/or subsidies were doled out based at least in part on the implementation of transit oriented development principles by local governments? Why shouldn't Metra provide premium express service only to towns that allow high-density housing and commercial uses near train stations? Why shouldn't Pace just say no when towns sprawling across our region ask for bus service? Why shouldn't the CTA pay a price when the City of Chicago ushers in a lower density, auto-centric city through big box developments, strip malls with parking lots in front, and zoning laws that make it difficult to build housing without lots of garage space?

Land use changes may be the political third rail, but it is disappointing that the Moving Beyond Congestion folks failed to articulate some meaningful reforms to land-use practices so that some--but only some--of these reforms could be bargained away in the political hurly burly this spring. Now, there is nothing on the land use front for the MBC to bargain away.

If McCarron's lightweight article is any indication how seriously the local media will be taking the Moving Beyond Congestion process, then we will never know the opportunities for a more efficient and livable region that are being overlooked. McCarron dropped the ball on this one.

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