State Senator Kimberly Lightford (4th Dist.) brought together transportation executives, community leaders and the Austin Chamber of Commerce on June 29 to discuss the area’s transportation system and to introduce the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) “Partners in Progress” plan. The information session was held at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave. in the 6th floor conference room.
Lightford opened the meeting stating “collaborations like this must take place in the Austin community. There is so much information, and if we don’t do information-sharing, then we won’t know. … [It’s] important that the business community know about transportation issues.”
Steven Drucker, Loretto Hospital CEO, said, “We’re seeing a lot of people in our hospital asking about whether we can get another el stop started again on Central Avenue. There use to be an el stop here a number of years ago, and it would really serve our needs as well as the Austin community very well. A lot of industry and companies [are] moving into the Roosevelt/Central Avenue area, which again would benefit those employees or those companies.”
Chamber of Commerce President Camille Lilly said, “Loretto is the largest non-governmental employer in the Austin community. So we know what collaboration is; we know how to be a part of the solution versus being a part of the problem. We truly want to see some things improve or change for the Austin residents.”
Lilly introduced Jock L. Hardy, director of Communications for CATS, who explained, “Partners in Progress is a situation where we team with everybody?”businesses, community leaders, churches, general public, students?”to find out what transportation needs are, what are your concerns. Partners in Progress is where you voice your concerns. We’re in the process of updating our long-range plan, our 2030 plan. At this particular point, we want input from the various communities. This is a chance to get your voice heard.”
What is CATS? It is governed by a 21-member board?”every transportation agency, every county, council of Mayors, the federal government, railroads?”everyone that has something to do with transportation in this region sits at the table.
What does CATS do? It investigates and responds to transportation planning concerns. The Transportation Improvement Program is a short-range plan, updated every five years. The Regional Transportation Plan plans 20 years ahead, looking at population changes, etc.
The 2030 Regional Transportation Plan predicts that within the next 20 years $68 billon will be spent on transportation in the region. Timetables are set by the local agencies. Those eligible for federal funding are: Odgen Avenue, Cermak Road, DuPage County, I-290 (a proposal to expand the Eisenhower Expressway, which would affect Austin), an I-80 addition, and a Blue Line extension into the western suburbs beyond Forest Park.
Next there was a presentation regarding the freight system by Jim M. Kvedaras, senior manager, U.S. Public & Government Affairs. Kvedaras explained that growth in communities and dependence on the railroads has also increased freight traffic in the region. Some areas of concerns are bottlenecks in residential areas, educating the communities with outreach programs, allocation of funds and freight improvements.
One of Sen. Lightford’s concerns is that communities like Austin always get left out of the decision-making process. She wants to make sure CATS representatives address Austin concerns. Others who posed questions were Anita Hayes, aide to Ald. Carrothers (29th Ward) as well as Camille Lilly wanted to know if part of the $68 billion will be divided equally by regions.
Other participants included: Malcolm Crawford, Keisha Jones, Eric Thompson, Belinda Burgess, Rev. Elizabeth Bynum, Glenda Bridges and Lauren Shelby. CATS Public Involvement Coordinator Lynn Toi Lawson was also on hand to answer any PR questions.
CATS invites all citizens to get involved. You can also invite them to address your group, churches or o ganizations. Call: 312/793-3460. The 24-hour meeting hotline is: 312/793-7818 Website: www.catsmpo.com.