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Mass Transit Will Ride With More Money For Extra Rail Cars, Maintenence

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Lawmakers in Springfield ended their Spring Session after a whirlwind weekend.

They passed several bills before wrapping up Sunday night.

The General Assembly passed a $40 billion budget. It includes $370 million for public education and fully funds a $9 billion pension contribution.

Lawmakers also approved a plan to expand gambling options. It's expected to bring in $700 million for schools, prisons, and sewage treatment plants.

A $45 billion capital construction plan will fund roads and bridges and includes an unexpected $4 billion bonus for Chicago mass transit commuters. But as CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley reports, it comes at a price.

Chicago's mass transit agencies - CTA, Metra, and Pace - haven't received a dime in state help for hardware in a decade. That's because that state hasn't had a capital spending program in a decade. And it hasn't gone unnoticed by passengers.

Remember the toll the extreme weather has taken on Metra?

Rail cars incapacitated by extreme cold, while during a heat wave, passengers bake due to air conditioning breakdowns.

All because some Metra rail cars are literally old enough for Social Security.

The new mass transit cash from Spingfield should help.

"This is a substantial package and this will address a substantial portion of the maintenance needs that we have in this region," said Audrey Wennik of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Chicago's transit agencies will share more than $4 billion in state aid. The official split isn't made yet, but expect the CTA to get around $2.2 billion, with Metra taking $1.6 billion.

And while Metra wouldn't say where it would spend its money first, last March the transit agency said it was ordering 200 new rail cars "with options to buy 200 more" if funding is available.

Now, it is.

"With Metra, they're running really, really old locomotives that are breaking down. So they really need to update some of their locomotives so their transit is more reliable," Wennick said.

Meantime, the CTA said the money will allow it to continue to rebuilding stations and track, and rehabbing rail cars and buses. But, there is a cost.

Much of the cash comes from a doubling of the motor fuel tax from 19 cents to 38 cents a gallon, with future increases now guaranteed.

"So we should not find ourselves in the same position where we've been flat for 30 years. Now it will go up gradually with inflation," noted Wennick.

About 20% of that gas tax increase will go to mass transit with almost all of that coming to the Chicago area. And while $4 billion is a lot of money, mass transit planners said about $30 billion is needed to make up for all of the deferred maintenance on all of the transit systems in the metropolitan Chicago area.

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