Transportation Tuesday recap: Advancing a Regional Capital Strategy
June 28, 2023
One of the core responsibilities of the RTA is to work with the CTA, Metra, and Pace to advance a capital strategy that ensures major transit investments are guided by regional goals, budgeted based on available funds, and completed in an efficient manner. Transit is the Answer, the RTA’s new regional transit strategic plan, outlines 15 new evaluation metrics for capital projects to track how these investments will advance major goals like equity, accessibility, climate, and more.
In this year’s final Transportation Tuesday webinar, attendees learned from a panel of RTA staff about the agency’s capital program and how to use our mapping and statistics website, RTAMS, to stay on top of projects.
The webinar began with RTA’s Manager of Strategic and Corridor Planning, Peter Fahrenwald, introducing the RTA’s responsibilities, including the creation and implementation of a five-year transit strategic plans for the region. Fahrenwald notes that the RTA’s 2018-2023 regional transit strategic plan, Invest in Transit, focused on guiding the agency’s work to increase the amount of capital funding available, while RTA’s current strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, is built around the need to adapt to COVID-induced changes to market and mobility needs and includes new methods of evaluating capital projects.
Fahrenwald went on to cover the Capital Improvement Program, which is a mechanism used to fund infrastructure that operates the Chicago region’s bus and rail transit network, such as the vehicles, stations, tracks, garages, etc. Fahrenwald explained that about $3.5 billion annually is needed over the next 10-years to address chronic disinvestment which is challenging to obtain. He emphasized that with Transit is the Answer, “[The RTA] will continue to advocate for and report on new funding opportunities as well as the important projects that are able to be supported with increased funds.”
The webinar continues with a brief presentation on Transit is the Answer, sharing the vision of the plan, the three core principles, and introducing the 12 new themes and metrics used to evaluate the regional Capital Improvement Program.
RTA’s Manager of the Capital Programs division, Brian Lowenberg, walked the attendees through the annual process of adopting the five-year Capital Program. Lowenberg introduced the funding sources that go into the Capital Program and explained how these funds get allocated. Historically, the RTA used fixed percentages to allocate funds but now uses performance-based programming. After describing the details, metrics, and measures of the 12 new project evaluation themes for the Capital Program, which can be explored beginning on page 15 of the Memo Summarizing Work of Capital Priority Projects Technical Working Group (2022), Lowenberg assured that the RTA “will work to make sure that the regional capital program has a range of projects that help to fulfill all of the regional goals” as outlined in Transit is the Answer.
A.J. Nazem, Project Engineer in the Project Management Oversight (PMO) Division, proceeded to present background on the RTA’s PMO Program, describing the process for project implementation. Nazem shared that the PMO process is conducted directly by only two staff members from the RTA with collaboration from consultants. Nazem stated that in an effort to be more transparent, consultants write routine reports, and publish information publicly on RTAMS and in the semi-annual RTA Project Management Oversight (PMO) report.
In the webinar’s conclusion, RTA Principal Analyst Chris Szmurlo took attendees on a virtual demonstration of the RTAMS website, directing users to where and how they can find varying sets of publicly available data. Szmurlo showed attendees the RTAMS Capital Projects and PMO Project tables which encompass project descriptions, titles, assets, funding information, and other details from the Service Boards. Szmurlo encouraged audience members to visit the website and experience the interactivity of all the informational transit project maps for themselves.
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