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Local Leaders Express Opposition to CTA's Proposed Elimination of the Purple Line

Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Evanston Roundtable

Local political and business leaders held a press conference April 18 at the Davis Street CTA station to announce they are not on board with the proposed CTA cuts, which would eliminate the Purple Line Express to Evanston and Wilmette and curtail much bus service to the area. All agreed that cutting services to Evanston - which CTA says it must do because of a $55 million shortfall - would be a hardship for Evanstonians as well as those who work, shop and obtain services here.

Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed service cuts would have a "devastating impact on the quality of life and work" for thousands of commuters who use the service. He said the availability of mass transit in Evanston has been a major factor in Evanston's recent growth. "While some have suggested that Social Security is the third rail of American politics, in Evanston the third rail is the power that provides transit services and that has electrified the local economy," he said.

Mayor Lorraine Morton said, "Evanston is a great example of transit-oriented development. Mass transit is as essential as the air we breathe. That is why people move to Evanston to travel to where they can make a living."

Jesse Peterson-Hall, president-elect of the Chamber of Commerce and senior vice president of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, said he estimated about 500 persons a day use public transit to get to Evanston Hospital 150 to 200 of them employees.

CTA receives some of its funding from a one-percent rebate of the sales tax. State Senator Jeff Schoenberg said there was a "mismatch" between the sales taxes [from places like Evanston] and the services provided. All beneficiaries should share funding with tax collections reasonably reflecting services received." He said he opposed the "ill-conceived services cuts proposed by the CTA. The cuts are nothing short of a slap in the face. We have no intention of [accepting them] quietly."

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who commutes to Chicago on the Purple Line, said, "While Cook County suburbs raise the largest percentage of sales tax, as much as $100 million of that is used to cross-subsidize transit services in the collar counties and the City of Chicago. Noting that under the 22-year-old taxing structure "the collar counties contribute of a penny and we contribute a penny," he added, "It's time for the collar counties to come of age."

State Representative Julie Hamos, chair of the Illinois House Committee on Mass Transit, said it was good that the Evanston Chamber of Commerce recognized the connection between economic development and mass transit. She said her committee recently released an initial report, "Is the 1983 Transit Funding Formula Ready for Reform?" a comprehensive analysis of the transit funding formula that made a case for reform.

Rep. Hamos said she believed there could be both a short-term and a long-term solution. In the short term she said the State may be able to help CTA with paratransit funds for handicapped persons, thus freeing other money to prevent service cuts. In the next 18 months, she said, legislators must engage the community in a conversation about "What do we need?.. The long-term goal is to make [mass transit] one of our top priorities and work on a plan to prevent service cuts." She said the federal transportation bill, which Congress may approve in May, "could help us with a blueprint." She added, "I am convinced that with the support of the Evanston business community, my colleagues and I can find the political will in this General Assembly Session to lead the region into a new era of transit funding reform. If we do our job in Springfield, we may be able to prevent service cuts that would harm Evanston residents and the local economy."

In a voice occasionally engulfed by noise from an el train passing on the embankment above the press conference, Mayor Morton emphasized Evanston's need for mass transit

If we don't have [mass] transit," she added, "You're killing our town."

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