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Winter 2013
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Chicago-area mass transit needs greater, steady stream of capital investment, study finds

Chicago-area public transit agencies need at least $2 billion annually in capital funding to avoid further deterioration, and failure to invest in infrastructure and equipment could derail the region’s economy, a study by DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development suggests.

The study, which synthesizes the findings of more than 40 reports and analyses spanning 20 years, shows that public transit is a vital economic component affecting property values, job creation and Chicago’s global identity. Though ridership is growing and public support for investment in mass transit is strong, the area’s transit agencies are facing a towering backlog of capital projects–up 20 percent from just two years ago–and chronic investment shortfalls.

“Transit is the backbone of Chicago’s economy,” says Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which commissioned the study. “Without it, we are paralyzed when it comes to attracting the employers, jobs and investments of tomorrow.”

Without more funding, CTA, Metra and Pace “will see increased failures in infrastructure and deteriorating vehicle stock, leaving transit agencies to face mounting concern for maintaining operational safety as service quality declines,” the study says. A predictable funding stream that provides a minimum of $2 billion annually over a multi-year period is needed to bring the aging system into good repair. This is about twice the average level of capital funding in recent years and substantially more than the amount of anticipated future funding, which is projected to drop to about $500 million annually, according to the study.

“Nearly two-thirds of employees in downtown Chicago arrive by bus or train,” says Joseph Schwieterman, professor and director of the Chaddick Institute, who led the study. “Without a strong transit network, the city will lose the vitality of its downtown area, which is home to more than half a million jobs. Overall, the deterioration of the system will impose more than $500 million–or $175 per household–in costs annually on highway and transit users, primarily as a result of higher travel times and congestion.”

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Bringing the system into a state of good repair would provide at least $1.5 billion annually in benefits by giving employers access to a larger, more-qualified labor pool and job gains of 15,000 to 41,000.
  • Proximity to transit corridors increases property values between 5 and 20 percent, and changes to the quality of transit can significantly affect the valuation of homes.
  • Each $1 invested in transit generates $1.30 to $1.90 in benefits such as direct labor effects, regional mobility effects, household savings from reduced auto usage, fewer highway accidents and better air quality.
  • Maintaining minimal investment in operations will lead to a ridership loss of 15 to 20 percent from today’s levels as well as additional losses from growth that will not occur due to increases in delays and unreliability of the system.

“Tending to Transit: The Benefits and Costs of Bringing Public Transport in the Chicago Region into Good Repair” was released in December and authored by Schwieterman; Laurence F. Audenaerd, visiting scholar at the Chaddick Institute; and Marisa Schulz, assistant director of the institute. The full study can be found online at http://las.depaul.edu/chaddick/ResearchandPublications/index.asp.