CHICAGO (CBS) — The Regional Transportation Authority is shifting gears – from a developer as its board chairman to a politician and attorney who actually rides mass transit regularly.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), 59, who has been runner-up in the past two Republican primary races for Illinois governor, was elected chairman Wednesday without a dissenting vote. Outgoing Chairman John S. Gates Jr. abstained from the vote, and suburban Cook county board member Michael Lewis was absent.
Dillard needed 11 of the 15 votes on the board. He replaces Gates, who has chaired the RTA board for the past four years.
“I have the best experience that there is, and that’s being a rider most of my life,” he said.
Dillard must resign his state Senate seat. He said he expects July 30 to be his last day in the legislature. Until then, Gates will remain as interim chairman.
Dillard uses mass transit daily. He rides the Metra BNSF line and the CTA to and from his downtown law office each weekday. He said his sister makes a similar commute. He said he has used mass transit his entire life, with his earliest memories being those of riding the CTA with his grandmother going to and from doctor’s appointments.
As a result, Dillard said, when commuters are stuck at Union Station, “the chairman of the board will be stuck, too.”
He said his goals as chairman will be “reliability and safety.”
Although that will score Dillard points with transit advocates, there’s a lot more to the job of chairman. He needs to balance the differing priorities of the CTA, Metra and Pace as well as geographical and political differences.
Dillard said his background, both in the legislature and as a chief of staff for former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, will help him address and smooth over those differences. Nor, he said, will he be shy about lobbying, either in Springfield or in Washington, where he will have to urge fellow Republicans not to gut mass transit funding in the next surface transportation bill, which is currently before Congress.
“There’s a mass transit caucus in Washington now,” and it is bipartisan, Dillard noted. Top priority will be bringing home enough federal funding to begin eating away at a backlog of deferred maintenance. The RTA recently determined that CTA, Metra and Pace will need $33.4 billion over the next 10 years just to achieve a state of good repair.