By Mike Dorning and Jon Hilkevitch
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
Date of Publication: October 1, 1999
Source: Chicago Tribune
WASHINGTON -- The transportation spending package approved Thursday by House and Senate negotiators offered the Chicago Transit Authority $7 million for two high-profile rail projects, disappointing members of the state's congressional delegation who said the amount fell far short of what is needed.
The package, however, provided more aid for suburban commuters: $25 million that will be earmarked for two planned Metra extensions and more frequent train service on a third rail line.
The spending package devotes only $7 million to the CTA for the $315 million reconstruction of the 103-year-old Douglas branch of the Blue Line, and the extension of platforms and other improvements totaling $240 million to accommodate longer trains on the Brown/Ravenswood Line.
"I'm very disappointed. I don't believe that it's fair," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "The CTA got the short end of the stick."
But CTA President Frank Kruesi, just back from a lobbying trip to Washington, expressed optimism. Kruesi said statutory language in the bill, coupled with a $1 billion infusion for the CTA from Gov. George Ryan's Illinois FIRST infrastructure-rebuilding campaign, provided the needed flexibility to move forward on both projects. He said the CTA was working with the Federal Transit Administration to secure a full-funding commitment, an agreement already granted to the Metra projects.
While he was upbeat about the funding prospects, Kruesi declined to back away from his earlier statements that the Douglas branch--where a growing section of the track is so dilapidated that trains must run at a slow speed--would have to be shut down if Congress fails to fund the reconstruction.
"I would always be happy to have more money, but I'm feeling real good about the direction of the momentum," Kruesi said, referring to the fact that the CTA received only $3 million from Congress for both projects last year.
The transportation spending package approved Thursday still could fail to pass the House, because of opposition for unrelated reasons by the powerful Transportation Committee chairman, Rep. Bud Schuster (R-Pa.).
Chicago Democratic Rep. Bill Lipinski, a senior member of the Transportation Committee, said he would encourage other Chicago lawmakers to join the effort to defeat the package on the House floor.
Lipinski called the CTA funding level "totally and completely inadequate."
The apportionment of federal transit funding within Illinois reflects the current balance of political power between Chicago and its suburbs. The Metra funding is slated for high-profile projects in the districts of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.)