Better to expand Metra service to Oswego and Yorkville or use money to solve problems within the region?

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.

Slower growth on the edges of suburbia

While many cities struggle with finding money, some suburbs are still growing. On the suburban fringe of Chicago, about 42 miles southwest of the city, Oswego is still experiencing growth though the pace has slowed:

This year, the local school district reported 648 more students for a total enrollment of 16,828, the village expects to issue up to 100 new-home permits and the village’s population is expected to top 30,000.

And sales tax revenue rose 8 percent — to $4.8 million — for the fiscal year ending in April. The village’s top revenue source also appears stable so far in the new budget year…

In 20 years, Oswego exploded from a village of 3,876 to nearly 30,000 and to an even larger market area that includes unincorporated areas in Kendall County, the village of Montgomery and portions of Aurora.

With the slow-up should come increased business for existing firms. But for the foreseeable future, major retail developments that once arrived in tandem with new residents aren’t likely.

So this is what the recession looks like in Oswego: no decline, some difficult in filling in existing retail and industrial space, but still growing tax revenues, some new home construction, and school enrollments.

I’d be curious to see a larger analysis of how suburbs, particularly those that were growing in the last decade, have fared in the economic crisis. Even with the money woes, I can’t imagine many have declined in population or though perhaps business has declined. My guess is that suburbs that were growth areas five years are in a holding pattern or are experiencing slight growth like Oswego.