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Transportation Tuesday recap: Improving and expanding the transit system strategically

May 30, 2024

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With last year’s adoption of Transit is the Answer came 15 new evaluation metrics that comprise a strategy for evaluating and selecting capital projects. Now, the RTA, CTA, Metra, and Pace are working together to improve and expand the region’s transit system in a way that promotes transparency and advances equity, sustainability, and accessibility.

This year’s first webinar of the RTA's four-part Transportation Tuesday series, moderated by Mary Weber, RTA Senior Analyst, Capital Programming, featured a panel of RTA staff and representatives from the CTA, Metra, and Pace.

The webinar began with Jon Sung, RTA Senior Analyst, Capital Programs, giving a brief overview of the 15 metrics used for evaluation of regional capital projects. These metrics are used to ensure capital investments in the region are targeting appropriate areas of improvement. Some examples of these metrics include accessibility improvements, climate impacts, equity based on residential geography, and more. Sung explained how the project evaluation process is a collaborative effort between RTA and each of the Service Boards, as each project is evaluated by the Service Boards and the RTA then reviews the scoring and suggests any adjustments to ensure that evaluations are accurate and consistent across the region.

Chris Szmurlo, RTA Principal Analyst, Data Services and Analytics, then gave attendees a demonstration on how to find information on projects in the regional Capital Program through RTAMS, the RTA’s mapping and statistics website. Szmurlo explained that the website is organized based on the Priority Projects in the regional Capital Program. Each individual project in the program is organized under one of the regional Priority Projects and includes a wealth of data, including details on how the project was evaluated. He noted that the RTA is currently in the process of improving the evaluation metrics portion, by adding a visualization for each metric, helping users quickly see and understand what they are looking at.

The webinar continued with a series of presentations from each of the Service Boards highlighting current projects in their agency that support regional evaluation themes.

Equity impacts of the CTA’s Red Line Extension project

Clare McGuire, Senior Project Manager, Red Line Extension Controls, at the CTA gave an overview and update on the Red Line Extension Project. The project will extend CTA’s Red Line 5.6 miles from 95th Street/Dan Ryan Terminal to 130th Street, adding four new fully accessible stations along the way. The project is currently in its engineering phase and will move on to the construction phase upon receiving anticipated federal funding.

McGuire stated that equitable benefits for the Far South Side are a large focus for the Red Line Extension project, increasing access to jobs and education for residents in the area, as well as spurring transit-supportive developments around the new stations. The project is also estimated to create 25,000 construction jobs through Cook County, with significant levels of Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation for construction and professional services.

Climate impacts of Pace’s transition to a zero-emission fleet

Roberto Torres, Chief Mechanical Officer at Pace Suburban Bus, shared Pace’s plans for transitioning to zero-emission fleet and upgrading their bus facilities to support healthier air quality and mitigate climate change. Pace is committed to the goal of operating 100% zero-emission vehicles by the year 2040, and to reach this goal, Torres explained that the agency will need to purchase new vehicles and modify and expand facilities to facilitate the transition. Having the appropriate infrastructure to house and support zero-emission vehicles means needing to purchase an average of 35 Zero Emission Buses (ZEB) annually until 2040. However, Torres emphasized that a $1.5 billion budget gap for infrastructure improvements presents a challenge to electrification and the need for more sustainable transit funding for both capital and operations is critical.

Making Metra more accessible

Dustin Clark, Manager of Program Development and Grant Pursuits at Metra, discussed how grant proposals that promote accessibility are assessed by Metra. By incorporating goals and metrics from regional strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, and Metra’s own strategic plan, My Metra, Our Future, Metra’s Investment Prioritization process intentionally scores accessibility capital projects higher than others during the evaluation process.

Thanks to state and federal funding sources like Rebuild Illinois and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Clark stated that Metra has the opportunity to provide accessibility improvements for the region. Dustin went on to share tips on how to plan a successful grant pursuits strategy and how to develop a compelling regional project application, particularly framed around expanding accessibility.

Transportation Tuesday takes place every Tuesday from May 28 – June 18. The webinars are free, but registration is required. Learn more about future events and register to attend here.

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Tagged in: Transportation Tuesday | RTAMS | Capital Programming

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