Metra service expansion called unlikely in face of shortfall
Dreams of Metra service expansions from new stations to extra trains are pie in the sky, and it's time to recognize that reality when planning for the future, officials said Friday.
Metra board directors reviewed a proposed strategic plan for the agency with goals and priorities that included a category for service expansion. Some of the items on the wish list include extending service to Marengo, Hampshire, Richmond, Sugar Grove and Oswego.
But given an estimated capital funding gap of up to $10 billion over 10 years, riders should know Metra "is not able to do anything if we don't have the money," Director Norman Carlson of Lake Forest said during a board meeting.
He acknowledged service expansions were "sexy" but noted that even adding one additional rush-hour train could cost $30 million to $35 million.
"We have to be honest: We do not have the capacity to expand. Any expansion project has to be self-funding," Carlson said. Others agreed that the agency faces a tough job scraping together the money to replace old equipment and keep its tracks, stations and other infrastructure repaired.
The discussion occurred as Metra prepares for budget discussions in the fall. Executive Director Don Orseno said "nothing is off the table" when asked about a possible fare hike, adding that staff financial planners were still finalizing projections for 2015.
Administrators did, however, compare Metra's fares to other transit systems nationwide. The agency increased monthly fares by the second highest percentage since 2010 compared to peers in New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. But Metra ticket prices are relatively lower than similar systems on the East Coast, planners said.