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Transit advocates mobilize around House hearing in DuPage

With the House Transportation Committee holding a field hearing Sunday in DuPage County, transit advocates will demonstrate tomorrow morning in Chicago calling on Congress to step up support for transit operations.

Transit Riders for Public Transportation, Locals 241 and 308 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and local environmental justice groups will march from CTA offices at 567 W. Lake at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday, February 17) and rally at the Thompson Center at 10:30.

They point out that the CTA fired a thousand transit workers and reduced bus service by nearly 20 percent last year – and that similar service and workforce cuts have taken place across the country.  They estimate that well over 100,000 transit workers nationally lost their jobs last year due to service cuts.

They’re calling on Congress to enact dedicated transit operations support – and  they want Chicago’s next mayor and City Council to “aggressively support transit operations.”

Meanwhile, another group of transporation advocates is welcoming the field hearing – and hoping they’ll be invited to testify.

U.S. Representative Randy Huldgren, a freshman Republican from Geneva, is hosting the hearing, Sunday, February 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the DuPage Airport.  Transportation Committee chair John Mica (R-Florida) will moderate.

The Transportation for America Illinois Coalition praised Mica for seeking out viewpoints on a new surface transportation bill and called for a focus on transit jobs and repair of existing infrastructure, along with greater flexibility for states and greater commitment to high-speed rail.

The group includes the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Metropolitan Planning Council, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Quad Cities Passenger Rail Coalition, Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, Active Transportation Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Transit advocates cheered last week when President Obama proposed a new surface transportation act authorizing $556 billion over the next six years.  It would replace a 2005 bill which has been extended since it expired in  2009.

Funding has been a major stumbling block, with increased fuel efficiency eating away at the federal gas tax, and political leaders afraid to take on the issue.  But today the leaders of the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce testified at at Senate committee hearing in favor of increasing the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Reforms in how funds are allocated are also needed, said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG.  Currently transportation funds are allocated based on the number of miles of highway within a state.  That can favor larger states with fewer people — and it gives states a “perverse incentive” to concentrate on building new roads, regardless of other needs, he said.

Transit funding creates far more jobs than highway construction, and it addresses problems of congestion and air quality, he said.

But funding matches required of states are higher for transit than for highways, and current law requires more extensive planning and studies for transit than for roads, which can be a political liability, he said.

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