Contact Contact

Three years into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Chicago’s transit system is winning competitive grants and advancing critical projects

March 12, 2024

Red line extension

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), passed in 2021, represented a historic level of federal investment for shoring up the nation’s infrastructure, including more than $108 billion in funding for public transit over five years, through 2026. The Chicago region is seizing this opportunity and bringing in more federal funding than ever to improve and expand the regional transit system.

Transit in the Chicago region and across the country has been underfunded for decades, and IIJA recommitted the federal government to investing in transit capital needs. In northeastern Illinois, this has translated to more than $200 million in additional annual formula funding, up to $750 million, distributed to the region and more than double the amount of discretionary funding won compared to the two years prior to IIJA. These increases have allowed critical projects to advance, like the CTA’s All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Plan, new Metra rolling stock, and expansion of Pace’s Pulse rapid transit service.

Formula vs. discretionary funding

Federal transit funding comes to the Chicago region in two ways: formula grants and discretionary grants. Historically, the bulk of federal funds and most of the system’s capital funding overall have come from formula grants, which are distributed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) annually to transit systems in metro areas based on population, ridership, and service levels, among other considerations. But a growing portion comes via competitive discretionary grants, providing our region with greater opportunities to bring federal dollars to local projects. Discretionary grants also require local matching funds – typically set at 20 percent of the overall project cost – so the Service Boards work hard to identify local and state funds that could be used to access the federal funds. Rebuild Illinois, the state’s most recent capital bill, offered historic levels of state funding for transit in the years immediately before passage of the IIJA so that the Service Boards are well-positioned to take advantage of its discretionary funding opportunities, which now generally account for over 20 percent of the annual capital program.

2023 discretionary grant success

Due to IIJA, there is more capital funding for transit than ever before, but competition is fierce for discretionary grants as transit agencies across the country aggressively pursue these new resources to meet significant needs. CTA, Metra, and Pace responded by dedicating additional staff and resources to the pursuit of federal grants, with planning assistance and support from RTA. Rebuild Illinois created a dedicated funding stream for transit from the Motor Fuel Tax, referred to as state PAYGO funding, that has stood out as an important source of matching funds and helped to show Illinois’ commitment to delivering projects to the region. This approach has resulted in major wins over the past year and since the passage of IIJA.

The region won $414 million in discretionary grant funding in 2023, a 23 percent increase over 2022 and a 190 percent increase over 2021, the last year of pre-IIJA funding levels.

This does not include the $1.973 billion that CTA is in line to receive from the federal Capital Investment Grants (CIG) New Starts program to extend the Red Line from 95th to 130th Street. The grant, when awarded, will be the largest transit infrastructure grant awarded to CTA in the agency’s history and is contingent upon completion of the engineering phase of the project. CTA expects to complete engineering this year and anticipates receiving an award by the end of 2024.

Success since the passage of IIJA in 2021

  • CTA has secured more than $800 million in new discretionary awards. These include $200 million from the Federal Rail Vehicle Replacement (RVR) program for new rail cars, $265 million from the CIG program for the Red-Purple Modernization Project, and $25 million from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program to support electrification for buses at the 95th Street Bus Terminal.
  • Metra has secured more than $450 million in new discretionary awards. These include $117 million in National Infrastructure Project Assistance Mega program funding for the Union Pacific North Line Rebuild, replacing 100-year old bridges and viaducts, $169 million from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program to purchase zero-emission locomotives and trainsets, and $100 million from the RVR program to purchase modern railcars. These represent the three largest grant awards in the agency’s history.
  • Pace has secured more than $52 million in new discretionary awards. These include two consecutive grants in 2022 and 2023 for $20 million each from the RAISE program for the Harvey Transportation Center and Pulse Halsted line projects. Prior to Pace’s first award in 2022, the Northeastern Illinois region had received 10 total awards in the program’s history, going back to 2009. Pace and CTA have since won three awards in the last two years.

Standout success with new grant programs

CTA, Metra, and Pace have been exceptionally successful with new programs like the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) championed by Sen. Tammy Duckworth and the full Chicago area Congressional delegation. In 2022 and 2023, for example, CTA and Metra collectively won well over 25 percent of the total funding available nationally for critical station accessibility upgrades for CTA’s Blue Line and the Metra Electric line. The federal ASAP program is modeled after CTA’s own program of the same name, after CTA’s local rollout of the program drew national attention as an industry best practice in prioritizing ADA improvements.

Agencies have also had success in applying for funding from climate-focused programs, such as the Carbon Reduction Program (CRP). In its inaugural grant cycle covering a five-year period, 100 percent of the Chicago region’s allocation of CRP funding was awarded to transit projects, with over $100 million awarded to CTA’s Red Line Extension project. The CMAQ program predates IIJA but was bolstered by additional funding with its passage. RTA and the Service Boards won over 90 percent of the Chicago region’s allocation of CMAQ funding in the latest grant cycle. In programs tailored to combating congestion issues and climate change, transit projects rise to the top.

The full regional capital program can be explored in more detail on RTA’s Capital Projects Dashboard.

Join the fight for modernizing the region’s transit system

Collectively, these projects represent the agencies’ success in taking advantage of expanded grant opportunities to advance longstanding goals to improve the system. However, several billion dollars of our state of good repair needs remain unfunded and we will continue to pursue all opportunities to secure capital funding in the coming years. Transit is the Answer calls for these efforts to continue as the RTA advocates for sustained, increased investment in transit capital infrastructure to make the system safer, more reliable, and accessible to all riders. Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition to help win sustainable funding for transit and build a better system for everyone who relies on it.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

* indicates required
Type your email address here
What emails would you like to receive from the RTA
Tagged in: Capital Programming | IIJA | Transit is the Answer | RTAMS

Related Articles

Navy Pier Bus Turnaround Electric Bus and Ferris Wheel 0321 Transit is the answer to meeting Illinois’ climate goals

As we celebrate Earth Day 2024, the RTA is announcing Transforming Transit —the agency’s commitment to lead the Chicago region’s transit system into the futu...

April 18, 2024
Red line extension Three years into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Chicago’s transit system is winning competitive grants and advancing critical projects

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), passed in 2021, represented a historic level of federal investment for shoring up the nation’s infrastruct...

March 12, 2024
22 RTA 0812 Why fully funding paratransit service and reduced fare programs is key to closing the transit budget gap

With transit facing a fiscal cliff in the coming years, fully funding critical programs like ADA paratransit service and free and reduced fare programs is on...

February 29, 2024
Pace capital RTA releases semi-annual project management oversight report highlighting more than 100 capital projects

Under its Project Management Oversight (PMO) program, the RTA ensures that the Service Boards—CTA, Metra, and Pace—are spending capital funds and managing th...

January 3, 2024
Microsoft Teams image 27 New fare structure unveiled in Metra’s 2024 budget

This guest blog was written by Metra CEO/Executive Director James Derwinski. Learn more about the proposed 2024 Regional Transit Operating Budget and Capital...

November 16, 2023
Microsoft Teams image 26 Melinda Metzger defines service and operating goals for Pace with 2024 budget

This guest blog was written by Pace Suburban Bus Executive Director, Melinda J. Metzger. Learn more about the proposed 2024 Regional Transit Operating Budget...

November 16, 2023
Copyright © 2024 Regional Transportation Authority. All Rights Reserved.