What's Rauner's take on transit, tollway?

 
 
Posted11/10/2014 5:00 AM
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  • Governor-elect Bruce Rauner campaigned at the Arlington Heights Metra station. But where does he stand on fares?

      Governor-elect Bruce Rauner campaigned at the Arlington Heights Metra station. But where does he stand on fares? Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, October 2014

Pensions, schmensions. Readers of this column want to know what Illinois' next governor thinks about roads, transit and airports, issues sadly lacking in this fall's knock-down-drag-out election battle between Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican winner Bruce Rauner.

Fear not. The In Transit time machine can transport you back to primary season when candidate Rauner shed some light on his transportation chops.

One ticking time bomb on the incoming governor's desk is the extension of Route 53 into Lake County and how to find the $2 billion plus required to build it. The project has yet to be adopted by the Illinois tollway

When asked in February if existing freeways should be tolled to pay for the expansion, Rauner opined through spokesman Mike Schrimpf that "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."

So what will be the Winnetka businessman's take on a tollway advisory group's suggestion to resurrect the Deerfield toll plaza on the north Tri-State Tollway to subsidize Route 53?

Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor, who's been talking transportation with Rauner, thinks "we should see continued momentum (on Route 53)."

Although the tollway is quasi-independent, the governor appoints its board. The agency was a cronyism playground under disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and Quinn cleaned house with new leaders who moved ahead in 2011 with an ambitious $12 billion construction plan funded by a toll hike.

There's little doubt Rauner will want to put his personal stamp on the tollway, a cash cow empowered to generate millions without the need for General Assembly approval, but how far he goes is uncertain.

"I'd be a little surprised if (tollway Chairman Paula Woolf) is removed ... that's a talented person," said former state Sen. Jack Schaffer, who also served on the Metra board.

Rauner's "a wild card," said former state Sen. Bill Morris, whom Quinn booted from the tollway board after opposing the toll increase. "None of us know where he's going to go in terms of transportation."

Rauner also may referee the city-suburban tug-of-war over transit.

It boils down to the suburbs craving more state aid for Metra. Ditto for Chicago and the CTA. One reason for a massive fare increase plan Metra will vote on next week is the dearth of state funding or a capital plan.

"(Rauner) may have the best intentions in the world on mass transit but he's not been elected to raise taxes," Schaffer said. "He'll be hard-pressed to find much new money."

Rauner is a suburbanite, who received crucial votes from Cook and the Collar Counties. But he also has strong ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Asked in February about mass transit, Rauner referenced past corruption scandals at Metra, noting "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."

Adding to the enigma is Rauner's appointment of feisty John S. Gates, former Regional Transportation Authority chairman and developer, to his transition team.

Gates has advocated either giving the RTA stronger powers to oversee the CTA, Metra and Pace or following through with a state task force's recommendation to merge all four agencies.

Another hornet's nest awaiting Rauner is the Illiana Expressway, a pet project of Quinn's. Deemed a boondoggle by critics, the proposed tollway linking I-55 in the south suburbs with I-65 in Indiana received a thumbs-down from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, yet the project is moving ahead.

This February, we reported Rauner describing the Illiana as an important economic development engine for Will County and the surrounding area. But the project shouldn't leave "taxpayers holding the bag."

Turns out, CMAP analysts reported the Illiana might do just that, costing the state more than $1 billion because it can't pay for itself.

Here's another twist. CenterPoint Properties, the development company that Gates founded, has historically backed the Illiana.

Stay tuned for a lively four years. Got a comment? Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Your voice

Metra rider Terry Tallian of Wood Dale doesn't "believe that Metra should raise fares to buy more locomotives and cars. If they truly want to improve on-time performance, they should put money into the signals and switches. That's where the problem appears to be. (On Friday) I got three late train notices. Two for signals and one for switches," Tallian wrote.

One more thing

Pace has pulled a hat trick by adding service to Blackhawks and Bulls games from Buffalo Grove. Previously, Pace express buses just operated two routes to the United Center, stopping in Schaumburg, Bolingbrook and Burr Ridge.

Bus 286 will operate Saturdays and Sundays to United Center events from the Park-n-Ride on Deerfield Parkway and Commerce Court in Buffalo Grove. Too bad Dustin Byfuglien's gone or it could be the Buffalo-Byfuglien Express. For more information, go to www.pacebus.com/sub/espd/madison_stadium_express.asp.

Veterans Day

Fact box text: With Veterans Day approaching, the RTA reminds veterans and people in the U.S. military that a variety of reduced or free rides are offered on Metra, the CTA and Pace. For example, the CTA and Pace offer free transit for soldiers in uniform from all branches of the military. Metra provides reduced fares for active duty military personnel. To learn more, go to www.rtachicago.com/fare-programs/military-service-fare-program.html.

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