No STAR line talks until spring - Metropolitan Planning Council

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No STAR line talks until spring


here's no relief in sight for traffic congestion and long commutes in the northwest suburbs.

"To live in northern Illinois is to be stuck in traffic," U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-10th, quipped Tuesday during a transportation funding forum in Hoffman Estates.

A Sept. 30 study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University bears out Kirk's contention. The Chicago area has the sixth most congested driving conditions in the nation behind Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Miami and Phoenix, according to the institute's annual Urban Mobility Report.

Although Metra's plan for a new commuter train line connecting O'Hare Airport to Joliet has received ringing endorsements, Congress isn't scheduled to debate the federal transportation bill, which may contain the project's funding, until spring, Kirk said.

Illinois' congressional delegation has been working to get Metra's Suburban Transit Access Route, or STAR Line, legislated. The 55-mile STAR route, which will link 100 communities from O'Hare Airport to Joliet along the Northwest Tollway and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern line, is estimated to cost about $1.1 billion.

The issue was supposed to be renewed this fall. But President Bush extended the current surface transportation law, known as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), for five months on Sept. 30, the eve of its expiration.

Kirk told business leaders that pushing back debate on the new bill, TEA-3, to March in an election year is good.

"A transportation bill is always popular in an election year. It's an issue that's uppermost on voters' minds. Those of us who are supporters of transportation think that was a good move politically," he said.

TEA-3 will be the third generation of transportation law first established by Congress in 1991 with the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and renewed in 1998 as TEA-21.

Kirk spoke at a transportation funding forum along with Philip A. Pagano, Metra's executive director, at the Northern Illinois University campus in Hoffman Estates' Prairie Stone Business Park.

Pagano said employers need to think innovatively when it comes to getting their employees to take advantage of the STAR Line whenever it comes to fruition, but acknowledged it could be an uphill battle.

"There are clearly advantages to the car. It's not going to be an easy sell. It's going to be a whole new education," he said.

Kirk hopes local and state elected officials as well as members of the Illinois' congressional delegation understand the importance of working together this time around. Otherwise, their funding options could end up short as they did the last time the legislation was authorized.

"We were in a battle between the city and the suburbs. Did the city win? Did the suburbs win? Actually, both lost and Pennsylvania won. West Virginia won. When we work well together, it's not bad news for Chicago or the suburbs. It's bad news for Pennsylvania," he said.

Tuesday's forum was sponsored by Business Leaders for Transportation, a coalition led by the Metropolitan Planning Council , the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Chicago Metropolis 2020.

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