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Our View: Authors’ ideas could help RTA

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 11:45 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 8:23 a.m. CST

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican from Hinsdale, stepped down from the Senate the other day.

We normally object when a legislator quits in midterm for no good reason.

However, Dillard had a good reason.

He has accepted the chairmanship of the Chicago area’s Regional Transportation Authority, which provides financial oversight for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra commuter rail, and Pace bus service.

Dillard, 59, is best known for his strong showings as a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor during the past two election cycles.

In 2010, Dillard lost the primary by only a few thousand votes to state Sen. Bill Brady, who went on to lose to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

In March, Dillard put up a strong fight against businessman Bruce Rauner before falling short in the GOP primary.

Dillard already has ideas for improving mass transportation in Chicagoland.

For example, he wants to establish one “seamless” system of payment for all riders, so that they don’t have to pay to access different parts of the transit system in different ways.

We encourage Dillard to consider ideas from other sources, such as the authors of “Fixing Illinois: Politics and Policy in the Prairie State,” which was published in May.

In the chapter titled “Transportation: Maintaining Our Greatest Strength,” Jim Nowlan and Tom Johnson direct their attention toward the Regional Transportation Authority, which Dillard now heads.

The problem for the RTA, they write, is that a competing agency – the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning – also has responsibility for transportation planning.

So you’ve got two agencies essentially trying to do the same job.

That’s not an unusual situation in Illinois, where multiple layers of government add up to the state having the most local governmental units – 6,994 – of any state in the nation. 

Nowlan and Johnson support a proposal by Metropolis Strategies, a civic group, that the RTA merge with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to improve overall planning and decision making.

That’s No. 58 on their list of 98 proposals to change the workings of government in Illinois for the better.

Nowlan and Johnson also believe that the Illinois Department of Transportation should create a Freight Division to mitigate rail and trucking congestion.

They call for an end of the practice of diverting transportation-related state revenues to general government purposes.

And they call for a review of how repairs, maintenance and construction of the state’s transportation infrastructure are financed.

“Fixing Illinois” also proposes reforms in the areas of state budgeting, education, human services, health care, economic development, re-engineering government, and fighting corruption.

As Dillard takes on his new leadership duties, he would be wise to keep in mind the sound proposals put forth by Nowlan and Johnson.

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