RTA Board approves 2021 Regional Operating Budget and 2021-2025 Capital Program for metropolitan Chicago transit

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RTA Board approves 2021 Regional Operating Budget and 2021-2025 Capital Program for metropolitan Chicago transit

Contact: Melissa Meyer, Communications Specialist, (312-913-3121 MeyerM@RTAChicago.org) or
               Tina Fassett Smith, Director of Communications, (312-913-3256, tina.smith@RTAChicago.org)

CHICAGO, December 17, 2020 — The Board of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) today adopted the 2021 regional transit budget and five-year capital program, which relies in part on passage of the new federal COVID relief package.

The 2021 operations budget is $3.02 billion, a 5% reduction of $157.4 million compared to the pre-COVID plan. The 2021-2025 capital program of $6.351 billion dollars is 23.5% or nearly $2 billion less than the previous five-year program. The 2021 portion of that five-year program is $1.492 billion.

The COVID relief bill under consideration now in Washington would include $15 billion for transit systems nationwide whose ridership and farebox revenues have been decimated by the pandemic. Without a portion of this new aid, the northeastern Illinois system would face an operating shortfall of more than $500 million in 2021.

Operations of CTA, Metra, and Pace have been able to continue in 2020 due to a previous $1.4 billion infusion from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed last March. Because those funds will begin to run out in the first half of 2021, the RTA and all three transit Service Boards have been working with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to call on Congress to provide additional funds while planning aggressively for difficult choices that would ensue without further relief funding.

“Without additional COVID relief, we would likely have to amend the regional budget in 2021,” said Kirk Dillard, RTA Board Chairman. “By adopting this budget, the RTA Board has bought time for the six-county transit system to delay what would be wrenching service cuts and layoffs. As a system, we are using that time to plan carefully so transit can be sustained during this very difficult period and so it can drive the economy when people return to their workplaces in larger numbers.”

The budget and capital program (with appendices) were released for public comment on November 10, and the RTA held a virtual public hearing on December 3, which followed similar hearings and comment periods by CTA, Metra, and Pace for their respective budgets. These materials and activities are documented at www.rtachicago.org/financemanagement/operating-capital.

Adoption of the budget completes Step 1 in the RTA’s three-step strategy for COVID recovery. Step 2, which is now underway, will be a collaborative, transparent planning process to ensure that cuts — if necessary, by mid-2021 — would minimize disruption, especially to the most transit-reliant riders. Beginning in May 2021, Step 3 will take a view toward 2023 and beyond to plan strategically for long-term implications of the pandemic and many other factors.

“For our regional transit system and virtually every other in the U.S., this is anything but a normal budget year,” said Leanne Redden, RTA Executive Director. “Thanks to heroic efforts of CTA, Metra, and Pace workers, riders have been able to count on public transportation even during the pandemic’s darkest days. Our three-step strategy is designed to sustain transit until vaccinations can put that darkness behind us and to plan for transit’s long-term resilience.”

The 2021-2025 capital program — which funds investments in infrastructure, vehicles, and equipment, as opposed to daily operations — draws on a mix of sources: 53.0% federal, 17.9% State of Illinois motor fuel tax revenue, 16.9% State bond funds, 2.3% RTA funds, and 9.9% local funds consisting of CTA bonds.

Capital programming is central to the RTA, which has been continually refining its regional planning processes, building on adoption in 2018 of the Invest in Transit strategic regional plan. For increased transparency and accountability, the capital program includes a new level of analysis from the RTA and the Service Boards about how each project supports Invest in Transit goals and core responsibilities of the four agencies. Read more in this RTA blog post about the 2021-2025 capital program.

“I want to commend the CTA, Metra, and Pace,” said Redden, “not only for responding to the extreme challenges of operating safely and reliably in this COVID-19 environment, but also for answering the call to provide an unprecedented level of detail about capital project programming. The highly detailed 2021-2025 regional capital program will enhance transparency and improve outcomes in the years to come.”