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posted: 4/23/2012 5:12 PM

Controversial funding discussed at transportation summit

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  • Transportation leaders gathered Monday to discuss how to pay for better transit and roads.

    Transportation leaders gathered Monday to discuss how to pay for better transit and roads.
    Daily Herald file photo


A staggering $333 billion to maintain and repair roads and transit over the next 30 years. A public weary (and wary) of increases in taxes or fares. A region competing for the limited revenues.

What to do?

Transportation leaders at Monday's annual Earth Day Summit, organized by the Illinois tollway, had answers.

But whether they possess the collective will and clout to make some of the controversial funding options happen in the next year is uncertain.

"If we take collective responsibility, we will get something done," Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Chair Paula Wolff said. Her remarks wrapped up a forum with attendance from Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, plus leaders of the tollway, Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, Pace, Chicago Transportation Authorities and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Some of the measures officials contemplated included raising fares and gas taxes. An 8-cent hike in the state motor fuel tax that increases with inflation could generate $19 billion by 2040, CMAP estimates. The state gas tax is now at 19 cents a gallon.

Other alternatives are: tolling existing roads; "congestion pricing," meaning charging extra for traveling during rush hour; raising parking fees across the region or instituting new parking fees where they haven't existed before; and tying tolls to the rate of inflation.

The key is selling the public on the need for transit and highway improvements, officials said.

"People have concerns about money not being spent well," Wolff said, "(they wonder) are pensions too rich, are bus routes running on empty, is the cost of construction greater than it should be?"

"We need to do a better job of creating support for roads and transit in the region," RTA Chairman John S. Gates Jr. said.

With scant federal or state dollars, the region needs a unified approach to asking Washington and Springfield for money, leaders agreed.

That means less of Chicago and the surrounding municipalities looking out for their individual fiefdoms -- "there clearly has to be a regional solution, we can't be isolated," Gates said.

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