Merge CTA, Metra and Pace? Lawmakers debut fix amid pushback from suburbs, transit agencies

State lawmakers unveiled an ambitious plan Monday to fold Metra, Pace and the CTA into one supersized agency that would replace the Regional Transportation Authority.

Proponents promised benefits such as a universal fare and more efficiency, but the seismic shift will be anything but a smooth ride in Springfield.

“We know that our current regional transit system needs improvement to provide integrated and community-centered service for all of our residents,” Democratic state Sen. Ram Villivalam of Chicago said during a Union Station briefing.

The three agencies face an estimated $730 million shortfall in 2026.

“As fiscal pressures bear down on us, now is the time to reinvent public transit,” said Villivalam, chair of the senate Transportation Committee.

The Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act to create the new agency is the first of several transit reform bills.

Another bill would provide $1.5 billion more annually to fund buses and trains. Leaders did not say where the money would come from.

“What’s most important … is to first tackle the issue of governance and tackle the issue of service,” Villivalam said.

Democratic state Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado of Chicago added, “there’s no new revenue without restructuring transit governance to put safety, frequency and reliability for riders first.”

But CTA leaders countered “to attribute the region’s challenges to anything other than a funding shortage is to perpetuate a narrative that will — at best — serve as a distraction to the funding crisis we face.”

If approved, the new Metropolitan Mobility Authority would have 18 voting directors, with three chosen by the governor, five by the Chicago mayor, five by the Cook County Board president, and five by the chief executives of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

That structure has sounded some alarm bells for Collar County stakeholders.

Republican state Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles supported the idea of consolidation under a stronger RTA but opposed the new board structure.

“I believe one of the reasons we are here … is because of years of mismanagement and fiscal instability have put the CTA in such dire straits that I don’t believe they can survive without a continued revenue subsidy coming from the suburbs.

“And I believe this whole process is an attempt to garner more control over that revenue stream,” said DeWitte, minority spokesman on the Transportation Committee.

Villivalam said the MMA “will give voice to everyone in Northeastern Illinois on transit.”

RTA, Metra and Pace officials said they were reviewing the legislation.

“Pace’s current governance structure allows us to be nimble and responsive to local needs, and it is feared that a governance consolidation would negatively impact commuters,” spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said.

“Changes must reflect the actual service needs of our region and address the real problem, which is a historic lack of investment in our transit system, especially in the suburbs,” she added

RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard said he welcomed discussions. “But reforms must come with the necessary funding to upgrade service and maximize transit’s impact on the region’s economy, climate and access to opportunity for all residents.”

Metra looked forward to “engaging in a meaningful discussion with the legislature,” officials said.

The proposals build on a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report approved last fall and sent to the General Assembly.

  State Sen. Ram Villivalam talks about merging Metra, Pace and the CTA into one super agency Monday during a news conference at Union Station. Marni Pyke/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.