Lauzen to Metra: Fix existing service before expanding
The focus is on existing riders, Metra's chairman assured Kane County officials concerned about expansion to Oswego and beyond this week.
But waves caused by lawmakers plumping $100 million into the state capital bill for extending the BNSF Line into Kendall County and Metra approving $4.7 million for preliminary designs aren't dying down.
The issue is about "fairness and trust," Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen told Metra directors Wednesday. "For 28 years, the people who I served have been told that 'we at Metra don't have enough money to even maintain the system we have now' much less expansion with its additional operating costs.'"
Kendall County isn't in the six-county Regional Transportation Authority boundaries where a sales tax subsidizes Metra, Pace and the CTA. It's unclear how capital and operating costs for such a mega-project would be covered, and so far Kendall officials haven't committed to paying the RTA sales tax.
"Would you please assure us ... that the millions we pay (in taxes) will go to the top priority of safety and state of good repair rather than expansion?" asked Lauzen, a former state senator. Kendall County is "a lovely place," he said, but while RTA residents pay taxes to fund transit "they (Kendall residents) haven't passed a referendum yet, haven't paid one penny,"
Chairman Norm Carlson told Lauzen "Metra's principal focus is a commitment and investment to achieve a state of good repair on its existing system. This means stations, bridges, locomotives and passenger cars."
Going forward, Metra wants the RTA working with county officials to establish rules for potential expansions beyond the six-county area, Carlson added.
With a growing population that commutes to Chicago, Oswego needs a local Metra stop, Kendall officials said. The village secured a $7.5 million federal earmark in the 2000s that is covering the $4.7 million design work.
Eight local state lawmakers plus U.S. Reps. Bill Foster and Lauren Underwood endorse the plan, Oswego Village Administrator Dan Di Santo said.
It's understood any extension to Kendall County means "the capital costs of that will have to be borne by someone other than Metra and RTA," Di Santo said. "We continue to live by that."
A preliminary cost-benefit analysis shows extending the BNSF Line, which ends in Aurora, would cost $440 million to construct and $5.1 million per year to operate and maintain the service (in 2016 dollars).
Kane County and Sugar Grove are recommending an alternative site located southeast of routes 30 and 56. This option would cost $370 million to construct and $4.5 million per year to operate and maintain the service (in 2016 dollars).