Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed a solution to the nation's infrastructure problems by offering his city's transit system as a model.
In an column for The New York Times on Monday, Emanuel argued that President Donald Trump "should be looking to Chicago as a model for the infrastructure investments and economic growth he wants to replicate across the country [and that] instead of embarking on his wrongheaded plan to privatize infrastructure construction, he should expand existing programs that have used local-federal partnerships to build transportation systems.
"Modernizing our existing mass transit is one reason Chicago's economy has expanded faster than the economies of New York and Washington, and faster than the national average for the last five years," Emanuel continued, saying that his city's transit system's success can be seen in a high level of satisfaction expressed by users compared to the highly publicized difficulties encountered by the New York and Washington subways, which round out the top three mass transit systems in the country.
Emanuel said Chicago has achieved this success by putting reliability ahead of expansion by concentrating "relentlessly on modernizing tracks, signals, switches, stations and cars before extending lines to new destinations."
He also stated that Chicago's management structure is another reason for the good results, because the mayor is directly responsible for mass transit, as opposed to New York, where it is the governor, or Washington, where it is an agency that includes representatives of two states and the federal government.
Emanuel said that this local control is essential, because "it strengthens accountability, focuses priorities and ensures the people most directly affected by decisions have more of a voice in making those tough decisions."
The mayor emphasized federal support has been key to this success and suggests that Congress double the budget for "the Federal Transit Administration's Core Capacity Improvement Program, which funds upgrades to existing corridors that are at or over capacity today, or will be in five years [and to] expand the low-interest federal infrastructure loans that have helped Chicago."
Another key element, Emanuel said, is for the federal government to boost the portion of the Highway Trust Fund that supports mass transit to 25 percent and raising the gas tax by 10 cents, which "is a smarter alternative than the Trump administration's privatization plan, under which we will all pay more in tolls and fees to the private investors who would own our roads and bridges."
He rounds out his proposal by saying that "local governments should look to innovative financing mechanisms like special taxing districts… to use growth in property taxes to finance transit improvements."
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