So much going on in transit world. So little time. Last week a new runway opened at O'Hare, Metra's board is back to full speed, the Illiana Expressway got a shot in the arm, Red Line construction finished, the RTA set funding levels after weeks of friction, and a state transit task force lambasted the status quo.
But we do have time to answer questions and allow readers to let off steam because this column's all about you.
To start off, Benjamin Tessler is puzzled by Pace and the CTA's new fare system, Ventra.
"I have five reduced fare CTA 10 ride cards with an expiration date of April 1, 2014, but have heard the CTA is cutting them off at Dec. 31, 2013. Is this true?" Tessler asked.
The CTA's Lambrini Lukidis responded that "the last day a person can use a magnetic stripe fare card is Dec. 15. Customers are encouraged to either spend down their balances, or have balances transferred at transfer events. After Dec. 15, customers will be able to mail in their old magnetic strip fare cards and those balances will be loaded onto their Ventra card through March 2014."
Tessler's second concern was, "I receive Transit Subsidy Vouchers from my employer. How can they be used in conjunction with the Ventra card?"
The CTA says, "transit subsidy vouchers can be cashed and that money can be loaded onto Ventra cards or reduced fare Ventra cards. The voucher can also be deposited into the person's personal bank account. With Ventra's auto-load feature, the amount of the voucher can then be automatically added to a Ventra card account each month."
Big Timber trouble
Shifting gears, Joyce Layman of Pingree Grove says the intersection of Route 72 and Big Timber Road is an "accident waiting to happen."
"The backup of cars going in all directions is mind boggling and the wait is unbelievable during morning and evening rush hours.
"If one isn't paying attention when there is a backup someone will ram into the back of a standing car and a reaction of several cars is bound to happen."
IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said the intersection qualifies for the installation of a traffic signal, but left-turn lanes are needed first. IDOT's finalized preliminary engineering and the $4.5 million project is in the six-year plan. The contract could be let in summer 2014 "contingent upon contract plan readiness, land acquisition and funding availability through our future annual legislative appropriations," she explained.
More Ventra quandaries
I've also heard from commuters with Ride Free Circuit Permits that provide free rides for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. They want to know how the Ventra transition affects them.
The RTA's Susan Massel explained that riders in this situation "should receive the new Ventra SmartCard permit by the end of November from the RTA. Once received, the customer will need to activate it. If no card is received by Nov. 30, they should call RTA Customer Service at (312) 913-3110."
Few are neutral about the Illiana Expressway, which was put on a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning list of major projects Thursday, making it eligible for federal funding.
Engineer Glenn E. Schirmer of Arlington Heights thinks the Illiana "does not address the heavy volume of traffic (especially trucks) traveling between the heavily populated and industrial northeast, along I-80 through northeastern Indiana and the southern Chicago region, and points to the west. In order to provide relief, the Illiana should proceed through northeast Indiana to the point where I-94 and I-80 cross near Michigan City and Portage.
"Second, it would provide better continuity if it connected directly to I-355 at I-80," Schirmer added. "A continuous route from I-80/I-94 in Indiana to I-355 would be consistent with the original Burnham plan and provide traffic relief. Unfortunately, it would also be highly disruptive to communities like New Lenox and Frankfurt, a problem that could have been avoided in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I-355 from I-55 to I-80 was planned and expansion in those communities had not begun."
Bill Lankenau gives us an opposite view from Naperville.
"The Illiana was approved for federal funding," he wrote. "That doesn't mean it will be constructed soon, but without federal funding it never would have. So there's hope for an alternative to the congested Borman Expressway (I-80). An easier way to drive to Michigan. And a new highway for access to the future Abraham Lincoln Airport near Peotone. Wow, progress for Will County!"
I expect some lively talk at the John Noel Mass Transit Conference this Friday. DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin -- who's hot on the topic of changing funding formulas for Metra, Pace and the CTA -- will share a podium with RTA Chairman John S. Gates, who's got his own ideas on transit funding. Add to the mix IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, fresh from the state's Illiana victory last week. The fun runs from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, and it's open to the public.
You should know
Love riding the bus? Love budgets? We have a treat for you this week when Pace presents its 2014 budget forecast. Hearings will occur from 4 to 6 p.m. at the following times and locations: Monday at Pace headquarters 550 W. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, and at the DuPage government center, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton; and Thursday at the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva. Just to be different, McHenry County's hearing is 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Crystal Lake Municipal Complex, 100 W. Woodstock St., and Lake County's is 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Waukegan Public Library, 128 N. County St.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.