Higher gas tax, Metra fares in 2019? Experts predict transportation changes in 2019.

  • Metra leaders may approve a fare increase in 2019 if revenues don't pick up, experts predict.

    Metra leaders may approve a fare increase in 2019 if revenues don't pick up, experts predict. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Experts expect the state to approve a new capital bill to pay for roads and transit in 2017. A hike in the gas tax may be the key to funding it, they say.

    Experts expect the state to approve a new capital bill to pay for roads and transit in 2017. A hike in the gas tax may be the key to funding it, they say. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

The old year saw a major breakthrough in O'Hare modernization with an agreement between the city and airlines but little momentum on other suburban priorities like Metra's funding woes or resolving the Route 53 extension morass.

What's ahead in 2019? Three wise men will spray some Windex on their crystal balls and predict the future for transportation next year.

With new Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker's swearing-in Jan. 14, "I think the stars are all aligned for him to lead a major statewide capital funding initiative," former UIC Urban Transportation Center Director Steve Schlickman said.

"A dearth of state capital funding for the past four years is causing citizens to experience road and transit deterioration."

DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman also thinks it's a "good bet that J.B. will be spending down some of his political capital to support of our ailing transportation system."

But how do you pay for a capital bill as fuel-efficient vehicles deplete gas tax funds meant for roads and transit?

"As much as motorists would like to avoid a gas tax increase, it appears that its time has finally come," said Schwieterman, who heads up DePaul's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. "Global oil prices are super-low right now, which will ease the pain."

Schlickman thinks the best time to do a tax increase to fund a major capital program is in the first year of a gubernatorial term "so that voters have three years to forget that and have time to see the benefits to them from the spending before the next election."

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Pritzker's "proposal will likely be based on a major gas tax increase, which hasn't been increased since 1991," he said.

This February, for the first time since 2015, Metra riders won't see a fare increase despite projected budget shortfalls. But will the Metra board vote to raise rates in late 2019?

"I think we may well see a recession in 2019 that hurts transit by reducing the number of work trips due to a rise in unemployment and a reduction in subsidies due to declines in sales tax revenues," Northwestern University transportation and economics professor Ian Savage said.

"So I predict even more of a budget crunch for transit. But raising fares in a weakened market may be a tough sell."

Pritzker likely will exert behind-the-scenes influence on whether to extend Route 53 into Lake County, currently the subject of a controversial $25 million study by the Illinois Tollway.

Schlickman predicts "as long as there is a strong and vocal minority opposition by local communities in Lake County, it will remain very hard to move the extension forward."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Schwieterman contends that the Route 53 "project has survived too many political battles to simply fade into oblivion."

Another problematic idea is Tesla co-founder Elon Musk's plan to build a multimillion-dollar high-tech express train to O'Hare from the Loop.

But with backer Mayor Rahm Emanuel exiting, the concept will be "derailed" by the next mayor, Schlickman forecasts.

Savage predicts that the "while the utopian future predicted by some proponents of autonomous vehicles is much further away than these proponents suggest, some manifestations are already here."

"I think platooning of trucks on rural interstates where the lead truck driver controls up to three trucks will become quite common in 2019," Savage said "I also think we will see the first commercial operation of driverless 'robo-taxis.'"

Our experts also promise that electric or E-scooters will come to Chicago and the suburbs.

"This will be a social craze in the summer of 2019," Savage said.

Upcoming

The Federal Aviation Administration will hold public workshops on a proposed interim overnight runway rotation plan that would last until late 2020. The first is Feb. 4 at Belvedere Banquets, 1170 W. Devon Ave. in Elk Grove Village. Another is set for Feb. 7 at the Diplomat West, 681 W. North Ave. in Elmhurst. Both are 2 to 8 p.m.

Start 2019 with transit

As is its tradition, the CTA will offer free rides from 10 p.m. today until 4 a.m. Tuesday thanks to sponsor Miller Lite.

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