Duncan Warns Windy City On Olympic Bid
Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. attended a field hearing in Chicago this week and warned the windy city they have a long way to go to get ready for the Olympics. The following story appeared in the Chicago Tribune about his visit:
CTA Called Hurdle to Olympics
Chicago Must Fix Crumbling System, U.S. Lawmaker Says
Chicago has the ingredients for developing a world-class transportation system, but unless reinvestment begins promptly, the city may have few mass-transit services left when the 2016 Olympics are held, federal lawmakers warned Monday.
Pointing to the transit crisis just days away, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) bashed Illinois as "the poster child for neglect" during a congressional field hearing downtown that examined the city's transportation needs if it hosts the Summer Games in nine years.
He said the political gridlock in Springfield that has pushed the Chicago Transit Authority toward next week's "doomsday" service cuts and fare increases complicates the Daley administration's efforts to prove it is prepared to be the Olympic host city.
DeFazio is chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, which wields influence in the fierce competition among cities vying to win billions of dollars in federal grants and funding earmarks for coveted transportation projects.
"It seems that the state and the governor are walking away from a minimal responsibility to maintain an existing system, let alone dramatically enhance it," DeFazio said in response to testimony at the hearing about rusting CTA trains and buses, crumbling viaducts, and miles of streets and dozens of bridges in disrepair across the Chicago area.
"You're in a full crisis mode, and the whole country is going to be watching this week," DeFazio said about the dozens of bus routes that the CTA and Pace are set to eliminate Sunday if the legislature fails to approve new operating subsidies.
Since the Illinois FIRST program ended four years ago, the state has gone without a source to fund capital improvements. That could lead to a significant loss in future federal aid if Illinois doesn't come up with the necessary matching funds.
Mayor Richard Daley, often criticized for not using his clout to force a solution to the long-running transit funding standoff, went on the offensive with drastic cuts only days away.
"To me, it's pretty clear," Daley said Monday at a separate event. "Either [the governor and the General Assembly] support public transit or they don't. This is do-or-die time."
"Springfield needs to remember that another round of short-term, stopgap, Band-Aid solutions is not the answer we need," the mayor said.
The House subcommittee's field hearing, held in a courtroom at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, was the first outside Washington in advance of Congress reauthorizing federal transportation legislation that will expire in 2009.
Officials from the CTA, Metra, Pace, the state and city transportation departments and the Chicago 2016 Committee were among those invited to testify.
CTA President Ron Huberman said the transit system could serve the Olympics wellbut only if it is brought up to a state of good repair. Huberman summarized $6.3 billion in unfunded capital projects at the CTA ranging from rail slow-zones in need of new track and railroad ties to replacement of aging trains and buses.
Among proposed CTA projects that would make the city's Olympic bid more attractive to the International Olympic Committee, Huberman said, would be the Circle Line rail service connecting with many existing CTA and Metra rail stations in the downtown area and the extension of the Red Line to 130th Street. It currently ends at 95th Street.
U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said it was his impression that modernization of the CTA system is necessary regardless of whether Chicago is chosen for the 2016 Olympics.
But Duncan called on local officials to prioritize projects "because we can't do everything at once," he said.
Surprisingly, none of the transportation officials used the hearing to pitch new projects as being vital to hosting an Olympics that would serve an estimated 2 million visitors.
Setting up the right transportation system presents one of the biggest challenges to a successful Olympic bid, said Doug Arnot, a senior vice president for Chicago 2016.
Yet Chicago's bid plans do not call for adding any significant transportation infrastructure, said Arnot, who was involved in planning for four Olympic Games, including in Atlanta, Sydney and Salt Lake City.
"Although we recognize that in the past cities have often looked at the prospect of the Games as a chance to bring forward long-planned projects, Chicago 2016 has not proposed, nor has budgeted, for any long-term city infrastructure projects," Arnot told the subcommittee.
Before the 1996 Summer Games held in Atlanta, the existing rail system was expanded by three new stations, 7 miles of new track and other improvements to system capacity. During those Games, rail service was provided 24 hours and rail cars were reconfigured to boost passenger capacity. The bus system also was beefed up.
But much of the CTA's bus and rail service, which provides 1.6 million rides a day, already operates at capacity during rush periods. The Chicago 2016 Committee plans to supplement CTA service mainly with shuttle buses to transport spectators and athletes to Olympic venues.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), a subcommittee member who requested Monday's hearing, said he remains optimistic that a funding deal will be worked out in Springfield before Sunday when the CTA will eliminate 39 bus routes and Pace will stop running shuttle buses to suburban Metra stations due to huge budget deficits.
"I am confident the state and local governments will address the immediate needs," Lipinski said.
Differing from others who testified, Lipinski maintained that "fortunately, Chicago already has a world-class transportation system."
His views were not well received by disabled transit activists who disrupted the hearing for about 10 minutes, chanting, "We need transit now" and "What about the money for the CTA?"
The protest prompted U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) to note that "there is a lot of passion about not necessarily tomorrow's transportation issues (linked to the Olympics) but today's transportation issues."
DeFazio seemed to agree.
"There are some very immediate problems that need to be resolved or there won't be a transit system upon which to build for 2016," said DeFazio. State government has "dropped the ball and booted it," he said.