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Metra revs up capital spending wishlist amid ‘unprecedented’ gush of state funding

Tuesday, October 08, 2019
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin

Metra will use its $1.45 billion share of the mammoth capital plan passed in Springfield this year to order hundreds of new train cars, update transit stations and replace rail bridges along the system’s 500-mile network, agency leaders announced Tuesday.

The Metra Board of Directors heard a proposal from administrators to spend $317 million on new capital projects next year, its first splurge in a $2.6 billion five-year plan made possible by the $45 billion capital plan passed by lawmakers this spring. The board is scheduled to approve the 2020 budget at its Nov. 8 meeting.

“This is an unprecedented amount of funding for us,” said Lynnette H. Ciavarella, Metra’s senior division director of strategic capital planning. The agency also anticipates $961.8 million in federal funding over the next five years, plus $146 million from the Regional Transit Authority and $26 million in fare revenue.

For the second consecutive year, the board is not being asked to approve a fare hike. Ticket costs were raised multiple times between 2014 and 2018 to help maintain the commuter train system’s infrastructure.

The proposed $827.4 million operating budget marks a less than 1 percent increase as compared with last year’s operations spending. But at $480.5 million, the 2020 capital budget — which includes about $150 million for maintenance of existing infrastructure — is more than twice the size of any capital budget Metra has approved since 2015.

Metra expects to rake in $205.2 million in funding from state bonds next year, plus another $73.7 million in so-called “Paygo” funding, which is tied to the state’s gasoline tax. State lawmakers voted to double the tax this year to help bankroll their capital plan.

The proposed budget sets aside $138.8 million to buy new train cars and another $95.3 million to update existing cars. The agency issued a request for proposals this year for up to 400 new train cars that “maximize capacity and add customer amenities,” according to a press release.

Other projects outlined in Metra’s 2020 capital spending plan include:

  • Replacing 11 bridges along the UP-North line between Fullerton Avenue and Addison Street
  • Lifting a bridge between 78th Street and 79th Street on the Rock Island Line
  • Repairing the Dempster Avenue and Davis Street bridges on the UP-North Line
  • Adding new tracks to the rail yards at Western and California avenues
  • Various station upgrades for the 147th Street station on the Metra Electric Line, the Auburn Park station on the Rock Island Line and the Hubbard Woods station on the UP-North Line

The five-year capital plan also calls for major renovations to the 95th Street/Chicago State station on the Metra Electric Line and the Evanston Davis Street station on the UP-North Line.

Metra has set aside $365.1 million for station upgrades and “parking improvements” between 2020 and 2024. Those projects would add heating shelters, replace aging elevators and improve lighting.


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