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Rail Advocates: Gov. Rauner's Proposed Mass Transit Cuts Will Hurt Economic Development

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Advocates in Chicago for a regional meeting said Saturday that Gov. Bruce Rauner will shoot himself in the foot if he slashes funding for mass transit and regional Amtrak service.

Rauner has promised to go on the road in coming months to Indiana, Wisconsin and Texas to lure businesses to Illinois. But National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Chairman Bob Stewart and other advocates at the conference said dismembering the state's Amtrak network and slashing a proposed $130 million from the CTA's budget would send a message business does not want to hear.


"Talk to the governor of Michigan, right nearby," Stewart said. "See what they've done up there and explore other states and see what they're doing and find creative ways of getting this money."

Stewart said NARP has seen consistently that where transit and train service is good, economic development spikes.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish said Rauner's pitch will be much more attractive if transit and state Amtrak services are fully funded.

"Having the high-quality transit network that we have, not only Metra and CTA and Amtrak but downstate transit services, we have a much better transportation system than Indiana does, and that really is a competitive advantage," Harnish said. "We need to grow that competitive advantage and use it as a way to attract more businesses."

Former Obama administration Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo now works for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. He said moving back to Chicago from Washington, D.C., has been an eye-opener.

"I'm a daily CTA rider and my commute is getting worse and worse and worse, and the bus and transit systems are seeing more and more delays," he said. "This is a time when we need to be investing in that network, ensuring it continues to move forward in a state of good repair."

He said the state of Illinois and the Emanuel administration have done a good job of chipping away at work that has been deferred, in some cases, for decades.

"We're going to have to present these alternatives to the automobile and reduce congestion," Szabo said.

Stewart said study after study is showing that millennials don't want to drive and don't want the responsibilities and cost of owning a car. He and Szabo said that creative answers need to be found; Stewart said some cities have enacted value-added taxes on businesses that locate near rail stations.

Regional Amtrak service currently serves Quincy, St. Louis and Carbondale, and intermediate points that include Bloomington-Normal, Champaign, Springfield and Galesburg. Service jointly funded by the Illinois and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation connect Chicago with Milwaukee. Planning is underway on routes to Rockford, Galena, Peoria and the Quad Cities. The Rauner plan would return the state's Amtrak subsidy to 2009 levels. Harnish warns against it.

"In our opinion, it's an all or nothing system, and the cuts that would happen would be so draconian that it would basically destroy the system," he said.

Szabo said failure to find additional funding would undercut Rauner's efforts to attract business.

"I urge his staff to continue to do good homework on what the business case is and present those facts to the governor," he said. "This is not the time to be cutting service."

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