November 16th, 2020
RED LINE EXPANSION A FINANCIAL DISASTER IN THE MAKING
By Dennis Constant
CHICAGO—The president of Taxpayer Education Foundation (TEF) today denounced the plans of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to spend $2.3 billion on extending the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street.
Reportedly, the CTA previously approved $75 million in funding for preliminary engineering and an environmental assessment of the project, but the agency is still seeking more than $1 billion in federal funding for the $2.3 billion extension project.
“The CTA board is living in the past,” said Jim Tobin, TUA president. “These are the twilight years of rail travel, including light-rail-transit, but politicians refuse to come to grips with that fact. They would rather spend local and federal taxpayer dollars on new rail projects to enrich their labor-union base.”
“A scholarly study in 2018 by Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole (Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need) gives an eye-opening and frightening account of the incredible waste of taxpayer dollars on these 19th century modes of transportation.”
“Transit bureaucrats spend money on expanding their domains, while their systems simultaneously fall apart. O’Toole explains that it makes more political sense for transit officials to dedicate local funds to match federal funds, thus doubling their budgets, than to spend local funds on maintenance and get no federal matching funds.”
“The CTA has a $12.9 billion maintenance backlog, and that 80 percent of that is for the rail rapid-transit system. The agency estimated it needed to spend $950 million a year to keep the system from deteriorating further, but was spending less than $500 million a year.”
“Where is the money coming from to maintain the expanded portion of the Red Line once it’s built?” asks Tobin.
“Building more rail transit has not increased ridership, but politicians don’t care. Public officials are inherently risk takers because they are risking other people’s money.”
“Another serious problem is that transit agencies make overly optimistic estimates about costs and benefits. According to O’Toole, almost every rail project built since 1970 has cost far more than projected and the vast majority has attracted far fewer riders than projected.”
“This is the 21st Century, not the 19th Century,” said Tobin. “It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars expanding 19th Century transportation systems in Chicago. Taxpayer dollars should be dedicated to maintaining the present systems so that they will be safe, comfortable and not prone to break down.”
“The over-taxed and under-served people of Chicago should not be expected to throw good money after bad into the bottomless pit called the CTA.”