You can talk tort reform and term limits until the cows come home, but what voters really want is a governor who can fix potholes, lower tolls and get Metra trains to run on time.
So let's examine where Republican gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard stand on the all-important issue of transportation before the March 18 primary.
Vortex culpritsDuring the polar vortex and other climate horrors in January, weather accounted for 1,426 delays on Metra. Freight delays came to 235, mechanical delays totaled 189 and signal or switch failures reached 190. Right-of-way accidents, such as vehicles on the tracks, were 88. The snowfall total in January was 33.7 inches compared to 2.6 inches in 2013, Metra officials reported.
A Lake County advisory group is figuring out how to shrink a $2.5 billion funding gap to extend Route 53 from Lake-Cook Road to Route 120. The Illinois tollway has yet to decide whether to adopt the project. One funding idea that's got some pushback is charging tolls on the free section of Route 53 near Schaumburg.
So we asked the four candidates: What's your opinion on tolling freeways in general and tolling this specific road? The governor, after all, appoints the tollway board members.
"No, I do not envision placing tolls on existing freeways to pay for new toll roads," said Dillard, a Hinsdale attorney. He added, "I would look very cautiously at congestion pricing," referring to higher tolls during rush hours.
Winnetka businessman Rauner "thinks we shouldn't begin to pose the question of asking our citizens for more fees, more taxes or more tolls until we've cut all the waste and corruption out of government," spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
"I'm open to it as a solution," said Brady of Bloomington, referring to tolling existing Route 53. He stipulated, "I have to see the whole solution to make sure I think it's fair."
Rutherford of Chenoa said "no" to the idea of tolling the freeway, adding, "I am open to expansion of the tollway system as long as it pays for itself."
Riders are steamed about Metra delays during the polar vortex and cranky about glitches in the rollout of Ventra. And let's not forget continued skepticism after a patronage scandal at Metra this summer.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn's mass transit task force soon will make reform recommendations that could include consolidating transit agencies.
Brady called what happened at Metra (where former CEO Alex Clifford alleged political pressure over jobs) "abusive and wrong." He has sponsored legislation to give the elected officials who appoint Metra board members the power to fire them.
Brady is "open to discussion" about integrating Metra, Pace and the CTA under the RTA, but added, "you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."
Rauner said the state needs to examine its "culture of corruption," adding "it's clear that Metra has failed the taxpayer time and time again. But what we should not do is punish commuters with plans to divert more resources to Chicago at the expense of suburban communities."
Noting he's a Metra regular, Dillard said, "I have an open mind on consolidation. The devil is in the details."
"Whatever we do we have to have fairness in funding between the suburbs and the CTA. I'm still a suburban legislator and I worry that the trains are no longer running on time. We must move Metra into the 21st century," Dillard said.
Rutherford wanted to wait until the task force recommendations come out before commenting.
The governor has historically played a key role in developing a south suburban airport near Peotone. None of the candidates seemed particularly excited about the plan but acknowledged it's almost a fait accompli.
Rauner said that "any new airports must have enough demand to be self-sustaining, and not reduce economic activity at other airports in the region."
Brady noted the state has invested millions buying land for the airport and "further investment needs to come from private or local sources or a public-private partnership. It has to be sustainable, we can't build it and think they will come," he said.
Dillard "historically supported the south suburban airport but as time has passed ... I'm not sure there's the need for it as there was," he said, adding that Rockford's airport could fill that demand. "I want to look at the real numbers when I'm the governor ... and keep an open mind," he said.
Another megaproject is the Illiana Expressway, linking I-57 near Wilmington with I-65 in northwest Indiana.
Rutherford said both facilities are intertwined and "as governor of Illinois, you will not be able to stop a Peotone or stop an Illiana," he said. Instead, it's important to ascertain that the Illiana is properly funded with a sustainable public-private partnership, he thinks.
Rauner said the Illiana "is an important economic development engine for Will County and the surrounding area. But we must make sure that any potential public-private partnership deal doesn't leave taxpayers holding the bag."
Dillard thinks the Illiana will "provide a bypass for the incredibly congested I-90 corridor" and reduce trucks on metropolitan highways, which will make them safer.
Brady is for the Illiana as a concept, but noted Quinn's office has provided few details about public-private partnership options. "It has to be a win-win and it has to be sound," he said.
Jeff Markarian of Lake Zurich sent an email with the subject line, "look ma, no hands," to my column on the connected car.
"The thing that always confuses me, though, is they talk about speeding and you would think with all the technology they would just make a law that would have these big automakers build cars that only go up to 65 mph. Why do our speedometers have to go up to 120 mph!"
Got an opinion on the election? On distracted driving? Or whatever? Drop me an email at email@example.com.
If you've got tickets to the Blackhawks March 1 outdoor game at Soldier Field you can avoid the penalty box of traffic by taking Pace's Soldier Field Express for $4. Buses leave between 4 and 5:30 p.m. from locations including Elk Grove Village, Lombard, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge and Schaumburg. Trips home are 30 minutes after the Hawks win. For more info, go to www.pacebus.com/sub/espd/soldier_field_express.asp.