Discussion is growing about expanding Metra commuter rail service to Oswego and Yorkville but where the money will come from is an issue:
Metra board directors on Friday supported increasing a consulting contract by $439,631 for a total of $2.26 million to review the Yorkville option. The funding for the engineering study comes from a federal grant, earmarked in 2003 by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Yorkville.
The agency has been considering locating stations in Oswego but Yorkville is being added since it offers an optimal site for a yard to house trains. Montgomery is also in the mix as a new station.
But how to pay for operating the expansion and related construction — since most of the route is outside the six-county region that Metra serves — is an unknown. A sales tax in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties subsidizes part of the costs of running Metra, but it isn’t levied in Kendall County…
Oswego Village Administrator Steve Jones said the Metra station was “extremely important. Up until the housing crash, Oswego and the immediate area was one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. As residents move to the area, they have some expectations for transportation for employment and cultural matters … just being linked to the city.”
Since Oswego and Yorkville have been growing, this makes some sense. Yet, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to find money, grants and otherwise, to expand train service within the six county region. As currently constituted, Metra service is based on a hub and spokes model where riders have to go into the city before heading back out. Why not find money to develop belt lines where riders can move between job centers, particularly places like Naperville, Schaumburg, and Hoffman Estates as well as O’Hare Airport? Indeed, there are already plans for such a line that involve expanding an existing beltway rail line. Read more here about the STAR Line.
More broadly, this is a question of whether officials should encourage continued expansion of metropolitan areas through the construction of new infrastructure or help deal with the existing issues of metropolitan regions. People may choose to move to places like Oswego or Yorkville but officials don’t necessarily have to find the money to support it.