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RTA chief: Merger not needed with planning agency

From left ElzbietPlackowskDuPage State's Attorney Robert BerlSenior Assistant Public Defender Mike Marappear before DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman  during

From left, Elzbieta Plackowska, DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin, and Senior Assistant Public Defender Mike Mara appear before DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman during Plackowska's arraignment Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 in Wheaton, Ill. Plackowska is charged with fatally stabbing her seven year old son and a five year-old girl she was babysitting. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, Pool)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:24AM

Joseph Costello is all for the Regional Transportation Authority working better.

But Costello, executive director of the RTA, is unsure merging the RTA, which is responsible for public transit and transit planning throughout the Chicago area, with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, is the answer.

“Arguably, CMAP works pretty good,” Costello said recently in an interview with The Beacon-News. “But we work closely with them, we sit on their committees. I doubt there’d be much elimination of duplicate service. I’m skeptical of a merger notion.”

Costello made his comments in response to recent reports that Metropolis Strategies, a Chicago regional think tank and planning organization, is backing state legislation to link the RTA with CMAP.

While both organizations are engaged in regional transportation planning, CMAP is responsible for comprehensive land use planning, too. A merger between the two organizations would integrate planning and oversight, and would eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, Metropolis officials said.

They estimated merging the agencies could save at least $10 million a year in duplication and overlapping functions.

But Costello said with new financial stewardship rules in place for the RTA (since 2008), financial and capital planning is better than ever.

And the RTA is involved in planning beyond its region, having formed a coalition of other cities with public transit to fight for multi-year transportation legislation in Congress that will include at least keeping the current 18. 4 cents federal gas tax, 2.6 cents of which goes to public transit.

“Our job is to point out to people that this isn’t some kind of spending they don’t see a benefit for,” he said. “This is for bridges, railroads, transit, roads.”

The public transit coalition not only includes traditionally transit-heavy cities such as Chicago, New York and Boston, but also cities with newer, growing transit, such as St. Louis, Atlanta, Dallas, Portland and Seattle.

Costello pointed out that the RTA is currently studying bus rapid transit corridors throughout the Chicago region. BRT costs about one-tenth of what it costs to put in more rail service, he said.

While funding isn’t immediately available for things like bus rapid transit and light rail, the RTA still is planning for when it is.

For instance, with the recent work being done on the Jane Addams Expressway – or Interstate 90 – the RTA has been working with the Toll Highway Authority to preserve the corridor down the middle of the highway for future expansion, of either light rail, Metra rail or even bus rapid transit.

“They could even be special lanes (for express buses), that hasn’t been decided,” Costello said. “But as far as the physical lanes are concerned, we’re doing that.”

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