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updated: 6/25/2014 5:57 PM

RTA board elects Kirk Dillard to lead agency

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  • Associated PressSen. Kirk Dillard, shown on the Senate floor, is the new RTA chairman.

    Associated PressSen. Kirk Dillard, shown on the Senate floor, is the new RTA chairman.


Wednesday was likely Kirk Dillard's easiest day as RTA chief.

The longtime senator from DuPage County was elected by Regional Transportation Authority board directors as chairman of the agency that oversees Metra, Pace and the CTA. He'll officially take over Aug. 1.

"I have the best experience there is and that's being a rider. I have been riding the CTA or Metra for 53 years of my life," said Dillard, 59. "The CTA and Metra are ingrained in my being."

He added, "as a state senator, I've come to know and love Pace, it's becoming more important as the suburbs evolve."

But multiple challenges loom for the Hinsdale Republican including eliminating turf wars among Metra, Pace and the CTA, a capital funding shortfall and a possibility the RTA could be eliminated if a reform group has its way.

Dillard said his knowledge of the city and suburbs will help to bridge the gap between competing interests.

"We are one region and we are one transit system -- a system that serves 8 million residents."

Next year, the legislature could act on a state task force's recommendations that the RTA be dissolved and the CTA, Metra and Pace be rolled into one superagency.

Dillard has said he doesn't think "governance" is the problem, explaining that greater consensus, vision and capital funding are essential for a "first-rate" system.

And to get that funding, he pledged Wednesday to lobby state legislators from "Champaign to Cairo" to convince them that a better northeastern Illinois transit system benefits the state as a whole. "If I have one thing to offer, it is relationships that will tell that story," Dillard said.

Dillard will replace departing Chairman John S. Gates, whose tenure was marked by clashes with Metra, the CTA and Pace. The outspoken businessman criticized the agencies for redundancies and waste.

Gates said he left the agency in good shape with balanced budgets and greater accountability from the transit agencies.

The choice of chairman, while an RTA board vote, is influenced by the elected officials who appoint the directors. Those include the mayor of Chicago, the five collar county chairmen, the Cook County Board president and board members.

Dillard ran unsuccessfully this spring against businessman Bruce Rauner to be the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 4 election.

Rauner also was said to be involved in the RTA process, first backing former DuPage County Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and later RTA Director Dwight Magalis. Rauner has not commented on the issue.

The RTA chairman is paid $25,000 a year. Dillard, an attorney, is a partner at Locke Lord.

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