If towns want Metra, they need funding plan

  • Metra's BNSF line currently ends in Aurora. Some have proposed extending it into Kendall County, but are taxpayers there willing to pay for it.

      Metra's BNSF line currently ends in Aurora. Some have proposed extending it into Kendall County, but are taxpayers there willing to pay for it. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer ¬

 
Posted6/18/2015 4:02 PM

Who can blame some people in Oswego and Yorkville for wanting Metra in town? The train service, for all its recent faults and fare hikes, offers a decent commuting alternative when you want to beat the traffic, read, work or avoid driving in a blizzard.

But wishes aren't dollars, and cost is just one of the issues that makes the new train stations unlikely anytime soon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So far, Kendall County has no official consensus on paying to bring Metra trains across its northern border to connect to new commuters. Six counties pay a special sales tax for regional mass transit including Metra, but Kendall isn't one of them.

Can local leaders figure out how to fund stations, rail yards and operations? That question hasn't even begun to be addressed.

"When is it likely Kendall County will come up with the funding to enable us to do that? It seems very far down the road," Metra Chairman Martin Oberman said.

So why has Metra kept spending money to study extending the BNSF Line into Oswego and Yorkville, including half a million dollars allocated a few weeks ago? At a time when current Metra riders face 10 consecutive years of fare hikes that still won't cover any service expansions?

It goes back to 2003, when former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, then from Yorkville and now a few miles down the road in Plano, got $7.5 million earmarked for Metra to study an extension south from Aurora.

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So far, Metra has run through about $3 million of that, Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke pointed out on May 25. Three days later, Hastert was indicted on federal charges of violating federal banking regulations and lying to the FBI about it.

The Metra earmark had nothing to do with that, but Oberman, Metra's leader for a year and eight months, subsequently said he'll reconsider whether funding the Kendall County project should continue.

We agree with that step. It's not clear the earmark money could be spent on anything else, but it shouldn't be spent on further studies of a phantom Metra extension until local leaders solidify behind the project and plan how to pay their part of it.

"This has not been in front of us since a few years ago," Kendall County Chairman John Shaw emailed after Pyke asked him whether the county board and residents would support a tax for Metra.

A 2012 Kendall County resolution supported the Metra studies, but some board members spoke against a tax for it.

Suburban taxes are high and it's valid not to want to pay more. But failing to come to a consensus on funding while expecting Metra to keep paying tax dollars for consultant studies is a one-sided equation. If all parties aren't on board, this project should be put in mothballs.

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