MPC transportation roundtable looks at dos and don’ts for securing federal funds - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC transportation roundtable looks at dos and don’ts for securing federal funds

Transit advocates gathered in South Holland to hear about best practices and learn about securing federal New Start transit funds.

MPC’s spring transportation roundtable brought best practices and expert advice for south suburban transit advocates. All Aboard: Bringing Transit to a Community Near You was held in South Holland, a community that sits at the heart of Metra’s proposed Southeast Service line. Co-sponsored by the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce, South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association and the Will County Governmental League, the roundtable attracted local officials, state representatives and transit advocates, all of whom have a stake in future Metra service in the southern part of the region. Representatives from transportation agencies and planning offices heard firsthand what economic redevelopment opportunities and freight congestion improvements communities would like to see in addition to better transit service.

South Holland President Don DeGraff kicked-off the panel by discussing the importance of new and expanded transit service to local communities. “This process started in 1996,” DeGraff said, “and has been a cooperative effort with all the communities that would benefit from the a southeastern service line.” The South Holland president stressed that a “strong quality of life …centers around transportation,” and that the true benefits to communities come in both accessibility for their residents and redevelopment opportunities for downtown areas.

Mark Fowler, executive director of the Northwest Municipal Conference, coordinated the transportation work during the planning and implementation of Metra’s North Central Service Line. Fowler discussed best practices and lessons learned in moving from corridor planning to actual commuter rail service. “Our goals from the start were to get the project up and running and use this process to create a model for others to follow.” Fowler noted that there were more than 40 government entities involved by the end of the process, but the key component had been communication: “we formed a speakers guild and would go and talk to anyone who wanted to hear about the project.” Although it took fifteen years from start to finish, the project has been realized, and lessons learned will benefit others who would like to see improved transit service in their communities. Fowler said that the three key aspects of the planning process were a yearly commitment — both financial and political — clear policies for what is expected and the expectation that staff, local leaders and elected officials will devote time to the project. "All of this is important," Fowler concluded, "but you must commit the time.”

Rhonda Reed of the Federal Transit Administration offered insight into federal funding trends. “Transit dependency, congestion and the increase in travel demand” Reed explained, “are why transit funding has become so competitive.” With TEA-21 being the driving force behind more planning by agencies requesting funds, the FTA has strengthened its review process to ensure that high quality and demand driven projects with supporting land use get the funding they deserve. “Coordination, cooperation, collaboration and communication” are the essential components of any and all transit projects that receive new start funding. Reed pointed out that Metra must know the process quite well, having won an unprecedented three full funding grant agreements.

Rhonda Reed explains that transit projects that are connected with community development goals are more competitive for federal funds. 

Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete) closed the session by saying that the “region was off to a good start” and she would continue to serve as a leader in strengthening coordination among key players in the south suburbs. She shared her perspectives on recent activities of the Southland Legislative Caucus and indicated that transportation issues were of prime importance to those members, along with education funding, tax policy and other quality of life challenges for south suburban communities. “It’s not just what’s good for my district, it’s doing what’s right for the region," Sen. Halvorson said.  She acknowledged that the state is faced with finding a successor to its Illinois FIRST program, which provided Illinois’ match to federal funds for transportation projects, which would be a priority for General Assembly members in 2004.

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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