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Arment Dietrich

Doomsday Spin Delays Improvement

By: Arment Dietrich | September 24, 2007 | 
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As a college debater examining the infrastructure of America’s roads, bridges, and railways our arguments often were countered by compelling facts and pigeon poop.  Yes, thirty years ago we quoted experts who knew the day would come when there would be so much pigeon poop accumulating on massive bridges and roadways that they would deteriorate and collapse.  The early investigation as to the cause of the summer tragedy in Minneapolis identifies that very issue as part of the cause – “Guano may be factor in Minnesota bridge collapse.”

“>www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/illinois/chi-ap-il-transitfunding-qamp,0,7618809.story

As the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin writes, “The national infrastructure crisis — the one that became so glaringly evident in New Orleans, with its floods and failed levees, and in Minneapolis, where an interstate highway bridge last month crumbled into the Mississippi River — now sits menacingly on the doorstep of ‘The City That Works.’” His complete article can be viewed at:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-infrastructure_thinksep16,0,3384312.story

For the past month, Sept. 16 was identified as “Doomsday” for Chicago commuters.  Fliers were printed and hundreds of labor hours were devoted to sending triplicate emails and handing out warnings at stations citywide.  Doomsday came and went – that is until Doomsday 2 – slated to occur on or about Nov. 4.

While an emergency provision to borrow against the future budget has kept the trains running for the next seven weeks, the reality is that much of the rail system just is not safe.  Instead of thinking of Doomsday in terms of fiscal policy, our real fear should be another accident far worse than the 2006 Blue Line accident that exposed just how vulnerable millions of commuters are each day. 

As I listened to the Governor and members of the regional transportation authority exchange rhetoric and hysteria, I thought – “I’ll pay more.” 

Is there a way for those of us who can afford to pay extra can just start having $5 a ride deducted from our Chicago Plus Card knowing the “donation” will go towards infrastructure improvement? 

Can’t the business community come together and raise an emergency transit relief fund with each company with 1,000 employees or more kicking in $100,000 or more? Making sure their workers arrive on time and alive seems like a good ROI to me.  Small business owners could be asked for less – but should be asked as well.  After all, their employees need to come and go safely each day too.

How about charging tourists more?  Or could there be an emergency infrastructure assessment on entertainment, retail, or hospitality venues that rely on the railways to bring visitors back and forth? 

Oh, and of course, if there are non-maintenance expense cuts that can be enacted, shouldn’t they happen now – not in November?  Forego the fliers and emails.  If Doomsday 2 is just seven weeks away, shouldn’t we act now to be ready?

Having lived in metro Detroit for 25 years where the car is king and public transportation is horrific, I’m an advocate for keeping Chicago’s rail system an economic asset.  And that means, keeping it safe and well maintained – and paying the price everyday to do it.

As the fake Doomsday passed last weekend, a report coincidentally was released that detailed the mismanagement that led to last year’s Blue Line accident.  Yes, the public has been assured that already, the system is much better than it was previously.  Yet, I couldn’t help but agree with a worker who was fired in the aftermath of the 2006 incident.  Know what CTA really stands for? “Cover Thine Ass.” — Shawn Kahle

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