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What effect will Obama's election have on the CTA? Um, not much

Belated congratulations to Chicago's own -- President-elect Barack Obama.

In this space yesterday, Tecki wondered: "What does an Obama presidency mean for public transit in Chicago?" Martha stepped right up with her opinion on a new administration "truly dedicated to reducing energy consumption."

My prediction is that Obama's presidency won't make much of a difference to the CTA -- except that his election cinches the city's Olympics bid. And with that bid will come some federal dollars to improve public transportation to mostly South Side venues. But those dollars would have come regardless of who is president.

But the main thing the CTA needs RIGHT NOW is a large capital spending budget. And that's a state issue, not a federal one. The only way Obama might indirectly impact state capital dollars is possibly who Blago chooses to replace Barack in the U.S. Senate. That appointment could have a boomeranging effect on the state Legislature, especially at top leadership positions.

There certainly are some CTA connections in the Obama camp that could prove me wrong about my prediction of Barack's low impact on the CTA.

CTA Board Chair Carole Brown reportedly is on the list of possible Obama Administration appointees. And Valerie Jarrett, the former CTA chair, was named Wednesday to head Barack's transition team.

Meanwhile, the Sun-Times reports that "Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) wants Obama to make Chicago the Midwest hub of a high-speed rail network and to increase CTA funding."

So, what do you think Obama's impact will be? Am I wrong?


Over the summer, I did hear Obama speak about fixing inter-city rail.

I'm thinking about marketing a KevinB doll, that when activated, says one of three pre-programmed speeches:

"I can't believe the 36 and 22 aren't on the bus tracker yet! The CTA must be too embarrassed to show us how bad those routes are!"

"They need to get rid off all the flower boxes!"

"I can save the CTA millions! Just cut all the 100k+ cronies and lackies that Huberman hired!"

Unfortunately there are only three phrases, in constant rotation, but maybe KevinB version 2.0 will have an upgraded phrase bank....

@Dave, Suggest you name it Baby Babble or Wa-WA Baby!

You'd have to have an advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence) Matrix built into it to approximate the suggestions that I've made and that would make the doll cost prohibitive, but hey go for it.

Just to be accurate, I like flower boxes and they do give the stations a nice look, but you know, don't block the bus riders from getting on and off the bus and don't sacrifice functionality for some decoration.

Just to prove it, I'm in the process of buying/making flowerboxes for my terrace in my new condo...of course I'm going make sure they are not blocking the only doorway to the terrace....I'm also installing some anti-terrorist devices in case they decide to drive a truck to my 3rd floor living space.

Also, since I'm not a public figure like Huberman, I'll be expecting royalties on any merchandising...


I was standing on the platform at Library trying to get to the rally when the networks announced that Obama had won. I believe the fact that I was on CTA property at the exact time he achieved enough electoral votes is a good omen. But seriously.... Longterm, just not having an administration with deep ties to the oil industry helps immensely. Obama has professed an interest in alternative fuels and reducing dependence on oil whether foreign or domestic. Plus, after having worked on the South Side as an organizer, I'm sure he gained a lot of insight into the challenges faced by the truly transit dependent, especially in an area that's not well served by transit. [Cue the Gray Line discussion in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1....]

The Federal highway bill is up for reauthorization next September and that could mean a lot of money for CTA. As with the current federal money that is languishing, it is dependent on state matching funds, but Obama may be able to cajole his former colleagues in the state senate not to allow pettiness and animosity get in the way of doing the right thing for transit and Illinois.

His effect may be indirect -- I predict a major increase in the amount of Huberman-Obama slash fanfiction among readers of this blog.

Also, the Bush administration added on many more rules and red tape to keep transit projects from qualifying for federal funds. I know this effectively killed a commuter rail line between Durham and Raleigh, NC that would have qualified during the Clinton years.

My lowest expectations are that an Obama administration would, at the very least, eliminate those execessive barriers put in place by Bush. This would make new starts easier to fund across the country.

My highest expectations, especially considering "Amtrak" Joe's influence, would be a large investment in public transit in the US similar to the federal interstate program started in the 1950s.

I think the chances of transit receiving far more support and funding than in the past are hopeful. If the point can be driven home that transit projects are less expensive than expressways, last longer before needing a rebuild and the return on investment in the form of increased economic activity is higher, I think there will be at least a moderate shift in dollars from building new highways to transit projects.

It seems, at least in heavily democrat urban areas, that increased spending on rail projects is seeing very high popularity even in light of the economy being bad. California just passed a bill to start building the nation's first truly high speed rail system and Los Angeles passed a large transit tax that will fund new light rail lines and subways. I think this time the momentum is going to be hard for Congress to ignore next year. Having both a president and vice-president that are strng supporters of Amtrak and public transit will be a huge help. I think the CTA will be included in additional funds IF the Illnois legislature and governor can STOP acting like babies and pass the damn capital bill.

I think it's a pretty bold statement to say that Obama's election clinches the Olympics. It helps a ton, but I think RIO is going to provide some tough competition. I hope your right, but I think it’s way to early to assume that this clinches it.

Regardless, I think you’re right about the South Side improvements. The Olympics will speed up this process, but with or without the Olympics I think Daley is eager to evolve this side of town.

I’ve though about a couple Olympic CTA “projects”…take a look and let me know what you think. Maybe you know something I don’t about the CTA’s plans and the Olympics.


Rio is going to have trouble solving their crime, and that is going to be way harder than fixing transit issues we have. Their problem is bigger than ours in my opinion.

Under the Bush administration, it was harder to get funds for new rail projects than for any other kind of project. While many (most?) urban development experts will tell you that higher-density development is attracted to someplace where rail is permanently located over areas served by buses that may not be permanent, the Bush administration disallowed any ridership predictions that included any predictions based on development attracted by rail.

This will make the biggest difference in cities with newer light-rail and streetcar systems that were looking to expand those systems. For example, Portalnd, OR has always seen increased development along their light-rail and streetcar routes, but an extension of the streetcar across the river to a depressed, old industrial zone that's slowly showing renewal has been stalled because the Feds aren't accepting ridership projections based on a speedier renewal.

Since Chicago, based on "Ron's" answers over the past few days, has few plans for anything, and apparently doesn't even prioritize a wishlist until someone offers capital funding, it's doubtful that CTA will see anything better under Obama than under Bush -- unless "Ron" knows something that he wasn't sharing in "his" answers.

===Rio is going to have trouble solving their crime, and that is going to be way harder than fixing transit issues we have. Their problem is bigger than ours in my opinion.===

Chris, I disagree. Rio could much more easily beef up law enforcement for the games as a temporary stopgap to their crime problems (which, BTW, are not nearly as bad as reported, and is becoming more of an urban myth).

Transit infrastructure is exponentially more costly, and requires clearing a whole host of red tape-like obstacles before ground is broken.

In addition, Chicago has its own escalating violent crime problem, if you haven't noticed.

Whatever "bump" the Obama presidency may give to Chicago will be mitigated by the city's worsening budget woes, meaning there's not/won't be enough $$$ or political capital left to satisfy the IOC requirements. With sky-high fees, fines, and the country's highest sales tax, any more shenanigans from Daley to feed his machine will be met with strong resistance. And resistance to the prospective host city's CEO should give the IOC great pause that the operation can run smoothly.

Let some other city host the Olympics boondoggle.

The Rio crime problem is not a myth. I know people that live there and that have been robbed at gunpoint 4 times in 1 year. Many times the criminals are in cahoots with the police and get "protection" during robberies. Other times the robbers dress up as the police. Throwing a bunch of police at the problem doesn't fix anything if they are corrupt to begin with. Tourists are also regularly robbed by cab drivers there which is not something a policeman can do much about.

Chicago's crime is nowhere near the levels of Rio and does not have anything that comes close to the slums in that city. We have our pockets of bad areas for sure, but nothing on that scale.

I don't see any benefits be created specifically for Chicago, but I think the new administration and Congress will make public transit funding a much higher priority than it has been in the past. All urban areas will benefit greatly from this, but Chicago is well positioned to benefit more than other cities. This isn't due to Obama's ties here, but is due to the logic of Chicago serving as a rail hub for Amtrack or any new national high speed rail. I think we'll also get a much larger chunk of the $8 Billion in capital needs (ans NYC, Boston, etc. will have more of their needs met as well).

In terms of the Olympics I don't think Obama's election makes the Olympic bid a lock, but it helps improve our chances. McCain's election would have killed any US bid (look at his history with the IOC and USOC). If we get the bid there will undoubtedly be some money for capital improvements given to the CTA. I don't expect these will (or should) be for new lines, but will be for getting the current system modernized and running smoothly. The El will most likely serve as a feeder to get people from hotels to shuttle buses to events. This could mean replacing a huge portion of the CTA's bus fleet, drastically reducing maintenance and fuel costs.

The biggest thing to look at is the alternative to Obama - if McCain had won the CTA would have little hope of getting federal help for capital projects. Obama's (and Joe "Amtrack" Biden's) win doesn't guarantee a flood of money for the CTA, but it does mean public transit nationwide will be receiving more funding in the near future.

Transportation has always been the one issue where I have never seen any evidence that there is the slightest difference between democrats and republicans. It makes no difference what party is in power not just in Washington but also in Springfield. The views of politicians on these issues come from regional differences. Obvuiously there are correlations to political party because urban areas tend to be represented by democrats are rural areas by republicans. But their political stands come from attempting to bring home the goodies to their area, not from their political party. Anybody who thinks that the transportation policy is significantly affected at all by whether Obama, McCain, or Bush is in the presidency is wrong. What might make a difference to the CTA is the fact that those in power now have more clout and perhaps will be able to get more federal transportation dollers to the CTA. But, of course, it might not make a difference considering that the state has not provided the neccessary matches for the money provided in the last few years.

I have to disagree with MK. It does make a difference what party has the White House. The President sets policy and, as I an others have mentioned, Bush created new rules to make it harder for transit systems to get money.

Party does matter. Public transit is a clear government program, and Republicans, traditionally, have been the party of small government.

And, as MK pointed out: Regional differences do matter. And where is Obama from? A big city. Big city politicians tend to support transit, and therefore, I expect that a big city president will support transit.

Well, party does matter when you're talking about legislators who simply follow the party line during votes. So who the party leaders are, and where they came from is more important that the affiliation of the less senior legislators.

I'm a liberal Democrat from an urban area. Two of my friends in college were conservative Republicans, also from urban areas. We used to have some heated debates about a lot of things. But whenever things started to feel too personal, we'd change the topic to transportation issues because there was so much common ground between our views. We came to our views via different routes, but we usually agreed on what was needed in transportation infrastructure and expenditures.

However in the real world, legislators owe support to others for their support. Pet issues are chosen, and priorities are set. So sometimes legislators will vote in ways that in a pure world would be hard to reconcile.

The Bush administration was decidedly rural, but there have been more urban-oriented Republican administrations. And there have been more rurual-oriented Democratic administrations, too.

The "battle" is more of an urban versus rural than one of liberal versus conservative.

The main point everyone seems to be forgetting is the lack of a point man on the House Transportation Cmmte. - when Chicago had Dem stalwarts like Dan Rostenkowsky leading that group, we had massive infrastructure projects like the rebuilding of the Edens, the Eisenhower and Kennedy Expressways. That guy knew how to get the votes and steer the dollars towards his constituents, no matter who stood in his way. We have no one presently on our side in the House, and Obama's not likely to appoint a local politico to that position - too many other Senior Dems are clamoring for it (Waxman and Frank, respectively).

I don't think this clinches the Olympics, either - if the Rezko trial gives up more nuggets on Little Big Man (Daley), all bets are off.

Why do people think Obama's election cinches the Olympics for Chicago? I don't see the connection. It's not like he'll have time to lobby the IOC on Chicago's behalf.

I think Obama is more likely than McCain would've been to sink some money into transit projects nationwide, though. We'll see.


The President of the Untied States has virtually nothing to do with "sinking money into transit projects". Transportation issues are decided almost entirely by the members of congress, particularly the house. The President has virtually no leverage as to what projects are inserted in bills. They are just a splattering of earmarks (some are worthwhile and some are not) that are just spread around based on political favors. Obama does not have a line-item veto. There is nothing he can do if he disagrees with what is and isn't proposed. There is never a comprehensive transportation plan that gets implememented from the White House. Every president since at least Reagan has wanted to implement major reforms of Amtrak, for example. Yet nothing has changed in that area. Amtrak has operated essentually in the same manner throughout the whole time.

While the money is allocated by Congress, the Department of Transportation, an executive department, signs the checks. Congress can say "give Chicago money to build the Polka Dot line", but Chicago can't actually collect the money until DOT signs-off.

One points needs to be developed: the "best and the brightest" from Chicago may very well be asked to join the Obama administration in Washington. Oh whatsoever shall we do without Ms. Brown? At first I'm glad to see Rahm go, but then again who knows who will replace him. Same with Ms. Brown, believe me it could be worse and now Chicago will truly have a political brain drain. I'm sure Mayor Daley and Huberman are staying...big surprise. I also disagree that the Olympics are clinched. In time even Obama will be disliked by the Frenchies, especially as reality sets in.

"Transportation issues are decided almost entirely by the members of congress, particularly the house."

For the last two years, that has not been the case. The House gave the Dept of Transportation a free hand in allocating transportation resources, and the predictable response from the Bush administration was a nightmare vision of privatizing all public roads while starving public transit so that mobility would become a commodity, rationed by an individual's class status. See this excellent overview:

Fortunately the plan would have taken many years to realize, and the Obama administration should bring some sanity back to transportation planning. But if Congress continues to give the DOT a free hand in deciding where to put the money, then Obama's election will have a huge influence on which projects are funded, over and above the likelihood that Obama will push for an overall increase in funds going to transit.

Here is what Barack's new website change.gov says about it:


# Strengthen Core Infrastructure: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority. As part of this effort, Obama and Biden will create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. These projects will create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs per year and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity.
# Improve Access to Jobs: America's families and businesses depend upon workers having reasonable access to their places of employment. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will double the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account. The Obama-Biden urban agenda will also help facilitate the creation of new jobs in underserved economic areas, so more low-income urban residents can find employment within their home communities.

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

It sounds like he is taking these types of matters into consideration very much in his Urban policy. Considering that he is the first president from an urban area since JFK, he will be more aware of these types of issues.

You are aware, Jake, that Obama seems to support a bailout of the car companies in Detroit. It looks as if he will issue "emergency loans" similar to what has just been done to banks. There is, of course, no good reason for that as the car companies are not exactly as important to the health of the economy as the banks. The nation will not grind to a halt if GM or Ford goes bankrupt. He wants to do this in order to please his union supporters. I would assume you would be against this considering that you seem to believe that automobiles are a great enemy to the country. So I wouldn't get so excited that an Obama administration is going to boom to transit projects. If gas goes back up to where it was a few months ago, transit projects will increase no matter who would have been president. An expansion of service for Amtrak has already been signed into law.

Obama is not half as progressive as I'd like him to be, but I think on the issue of transit he will prove quite good, and far better than McCain would have been. Simply the fact that he has an urban background and is sensitive to the needs of urban areas should ensure that. Who he appoints to head the Dept of Transportation will give us a better idea.

Bailing out Detroit does seem like a bad idea, altho there is something to be said for stopping the bleeding in Michigan before the whole state starts to resemble Gary. Maybe the best solution would be to nationalize GM and Chrysler and convert their factories to producing things that are useful, like rail cars. But the American political spectrum is far too narrow (and hypocritical) to consider such an idea.

The posters above are correct that it takes Congress to first appropriate the money, although the President can set policy and Congress can either delegate the approval of projects to DOT or make earmarks.

Now for some observations on what I might see happening or like to see, although I doubt that they will occur:

1. The assumption that new transportation money requires a local match needs to be revisited, especially if one of the goals is economic stimulus (an admittedly snide remark follows: putting the concrete industry including Ozinga to work). While the Illinois General Assembly consists of bunglers in this regard (I looked back at two year old statements that it would not leave federal funds on the table), many states are pleading poverty, especially if the trend of leasing assets is any indication. Effective economic stimulus requires that the feds print money, which only they can do.

2. If Emanuel has any clout, he should get the money to fix the north side L in his neighborhood, once and for all (especially the crumbling concrete viaducts and the urine soaked stations--all of them, not just Howard).

3. If Obama has any clout, he should get the Red Line extension constructed in the near future (to benefit his constituents who live near Trinity UCC). While there is still some work to be done to establish the right of way, forcing the project through an interminable consultant process will not get the job done.

I submit that 2 and 3 require much more immediate action than relying on the mantra that "we'll get federal infrastructure funds if we get the Olympics."

The chance of any fund that roll in because of the Olympics being used on infrastructure for anything other than moving fans and participants from hotels/housing to/from and between Olympic venues is low. Perhaps some upgrades at yards or garages, but that's about it. Olympic money will not be used to build or upgrade anything that would be of use beyond the needs of the Olympics.

And if infrastructure for the Olympics needs to be built, it won't all be Federal money. State and local money will be diverted to these projects as well.

The Olympics will bring a lot of family supporting construction jobs (or at least up to the point that they begin), some service jobs to support the constructors, and a whole bunch of temp jobs for a few weeks during the games. That's worth something.

But the day the games are over, much of that infrastructure will have no particular utility. And much of it will not be able to be re-deployed anywhere that it will have utility.

So this idea that Olympic money will save the CTA is just nuts. At best, the CTA might get some upgrades at garages and yards, a few extra rail cars, and, if they do it right, a bunch of new buses.

Of course since there's rules about how many spare vehicles you can have if you use Federal funds, they'd have to scrap or sell some older vehicles, so the net potential gain is a slightly newer fleet.

They'd also have some non-productive infrastructure to/from/between the Olympic venues and hotels/housing that'll require operating funds to maintain.

So when you find someone who's reciting the mantra of "we'll get Federal infrastructure funds if we get the Olympics", they're either people incapable of thinking ahead more than one step, or they just trying to fool people they think can't think ahead more than one step.

I think Obama should select Ron Huberman as Secretary of the Department of Transportation.

Rusty Trombone:
"I think Obama should select Ron Huberman as Secretary of the Department of Transportation."

Didn't Rahm get Kruesi his first job at DOT? That enabled Kruesi to became the "experienced transit official" hired as CTA President in 1997, who later proved that he was clueless about running a transit agency.

Since Obama's co-chair of his transition team is Valerie Jarrett, who was Chairman of the Board during the Kruesi years and actually approved the $140M Block 37 hole in the ground, I guess I don't have high hopes.

I think the Block 37 project was approved well after Jerrett left.

A very quick and easy search on Google shows that Jarrett accepted the post of CTA chairman of the board in September, 1995, and stepped down in early April, 2003.

A second Google search found a timeline of the project at



Did you link to that timeline for a reason? It doesn't say a single thing about the CTA station. But since you seem to be interested in "very quick and easy" google searches, I did a more specific search and clearly found that the station was approved in 2005: http://www.transitchicago.com/news/archpress.wu?action=displayarticledetail&articleid=129385 That was after Jerrit left. So my recollection (which I was pretty confident about) was correct.

Seriously Bob, why did you link to that? There is not ONE SINGLE THING on the page that mentions what we are talking about. Neither the CTA or the station is mentioned at all.

Since Valerie Jarrett was the Chairman of the CTA Board that approved the $140M hole in the ground, I say good riddance to her. Why does Kruesi catch all the heat? The President proposes projects, the Board approves them.


Did you even read the thread before you posted? Jerrit was not the CTA chairman when the Block 37 station was approved. Carole Brown was. I provided a link to a CTA press release at the time which clearly shows this.

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