CHICAGO - Chicago will receive $153 million in federal money to fund an ambitious congestion-relief program unveiled yesterday by Mayor Richard Daley and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters that includes congestion pricing for street parking and the establishment of rapid bus routes aimed at cutting downtown traffic and improving air quality.

"Chicago's plan is ambitious, bold, and innovative - just like the city itself," Peters said. "We support Chicago's leaders because their plan helps to ensure that the city that works doesn't become the city that idles."

Under the proposal, Chicago would create four pilot routes that would establish a bus rapid transit network with dedicated lanes. Eventually, the city hopes to expand the network to cover 100 miles. The Chicago Transit Authority could use the funds to purchase cleaner running hybrid busses. The city did not announce the routes yesterday, but officials said they hope to begin operations on the initial routes next year.

The congestion-pricing piece of the proposal calls for the city to set meter rates and lot rates higher during the morning and rush hour periods to encourage the use of transit. Fees for designated truck loading zones would also be established to discourage repeat visits daily.

"A million people a day ride the CTA, and too many of them are stuck in traffic," Daley said at a news conference. "We don't believe we have to live in a gridlock forever."

The funds are being provided under the Transportation Department's National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network, referred to as the Congestion Initiative. The money originally was part of a $354.5 million award New York City was to receive under a congestion pricing plan backed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, but the city lost the funds after state lawmakers failed to approve the plan in time. Miami, Minneapolis and St. Paul, San Francisco, and Seattle also are to receive funds under previously announced agreements.

The federal funds are being awarded as Chicago's transit system struggles to find financing for $6.3 billion of unfunded, long-term needs and as passage of Illinois' proposed $25 billion capital budget is stalled. The capital budget would provide $2.7 billion for the CTA and other area transit agencies - a figure officials have warned is far short of what is needed to improve transit service. Chicago is also under pressure to improve its transit system as it competes internationally to host the 2016 Summer Games.

A statement from federal officials said the funding is contingent on the city and the CTA adopting the necessary legal authorities and on the city's successful privatization of its metered parking system by the end of the year. No state approval is needed.

Officials are currently reviewing proposals from firms interested in bidding on the right to operate the city's lucrative parking meter system for at least 50 years for an upfront cash payment.

The city and Chicago Park District's parking system generated total operating revenue of $21.9 million in 2006 and $22.9 million last year. After paying operating expenses, the system generated $16.6 million in income in 2006 and $18.9 million last year. Market participants have said the deal could raise more than $1 billion depending on the term and details.

 

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