Saturday, January 27, 2007

RTA Act (Article III): What Were They Thinking?

Article III of the RTA Act covers the organization and operation of the RTA board. We've discussed the allocation of RTA board seats among the three regions built in to the RTA: City of Chicago; suburban Cook County; and the collar counties. (Here here, here and here.)

Article III (70 ILCS 3615/3.06) establishes the six-county region that is subject to the RTA's jurisdiction. These counties--Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will--no doubt comprised most of the known urban/suburban universe when the RTA was created. Since then, however, development continues to occur--some would say mestasize--in counties outside of the six county region. Kendall County, for example, nourished by federal dollars brought home by recently deposed Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, is growing rapidly. There has been talk of extending Metra service from Aurora to Yorkville and even beyond to Ottawa in LaSalle County. The Prairie Parkway, a key Hastert initiative, is another spur to development outside of the six-county region. Development is also occurring along the Northwest Tollway between Elgin and Rockford, leading to talk of a commuter rail line connecting Rockford with Chicago. (Here and here)

Should the RTA's jurisdiction be extended to include counties beginning the seeming inexorable path from farmland to strip mall franchises? The answer is probably not if the RTA's mission continues to be focused on public transit. These outlying regions are unlikely to generate all that much sales tax revenue for the RTA. Yet, including them in the RTA would create pressure to supply these exurban regions with expensive and relatively unused public transit service in order to show the local they are getting something for their tax dollars. Who needs more whining like that from Kane County officials.

The RTA Act could be amended, however, to encourage the RTA to use intergovernmental agreements and the like to cooperate with public transit initiatives from outside of the six-county region if such cooperation enhances the RTA system. Thus, it might make sense for the RTA to cooperate with a rail or bus rapid transit initiatives that will deliver people to and from outlying areas to the RTA service area.

Another objection to expanding the RTA's geographical scope is that doing so would further dilute the influence of the City of Chicago and suburban Cook County, where the vast majority of transit trips are taken and where most of the funding for regional transit comes from.

In sum, there is no compelling reason to increase the size of the RTA's jurisdiction from the existing six counties.


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Lynn said...

Good post.