Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hell on Wheels

"Monday, hell begins." With those three words, CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown probably uttered the most accurate statement to date about the ongoing Brown Line renovations.

Almost three years of unprecedented service reductions will start as scheduled Monday on the CTA's busiest rail corridor in order to install elevators and expand platforms at the Belmont and Fullerton stations.

The board voted 6-0 to accept the recommendation of transit agency president Frank Kruesi to implement a 25 percent reduction in track capacity on the North Side corridor served by the Red, Brown and Purple/Evanston Express Lines.

Here's a paragraph that I had to read twice because I was sure that I misread it the first time:

But Brown and board member Nicholas Zagotta said they based their yes votes solely on Kruesi's assurances that the CTA has done all it can to prepare and to minimize disruptions for the 185,000 people who use the three rail lines, as well as for thousands of transit users on other rail lines and bus routes who will feel the crunch due to increased ridership.

Brown and Zagotta may have wanted to chat with legislators who represent areas along the Brown Line about their experiences in relying on the assurances that we got in the months leading up to the Brown Line renovation project. (Self-edited in the interest of not wanting to start a major confrontation.) Without getting into it, the vote may have turned out a little differently. Although in reality, it probably wouldn't have.

Before panic sets in, you should know that the CTA has a contingency plan:

CTA officials insisted riders can help operations go more smoothly by staying off northbound trains leaving downtown between roughly 4:45 and 6 p.m., when the number of passengers is expected to exceed capacity. The second busiest period is expected to be from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. for southbound travel, officials said.
So if you're following along here, the contingency plan to help riders get between work and home is...don't take the trains during rush hour. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.

Riders may have then thought that they were getting some sort of reprieve upon learning that service will be increased on seven CTA bus routes during the morning and evening rush hours... that is until they find out that forty-two bus routes serve the area affected by the Brown Line project.

So if you're going to rely on one of the other thirty-five bus routes to deal with the disruption, you better stock up on deodorant because you're going to be in some close quarters.

Past experience tells me that the CTA has long-known what their plans were going to entail; the same way that they knew that there were going to be station closures while telling everybody else the exact opposite.

Part of the audit recently released by Auditor General William Holland in response to a House Resolution that I passed last session states that the CTA needs to improve communication and coordination with the public and elected officials. Looks like they didn't get the memo.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Things are Heating Up

There has been a whole lot of action this week, much of which coming to a crescendo today. This morning, the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee passed House Bill 750 by a 12-3-6 vote. There have been a lot of negotiations on this bill over the last couple of years, with more to come, and it is virtually certain that the bill will go back to committee before going to the full House for consideration. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that this is the most significant step forward in years in efforts to reform education funding, while providing for increased accountability and some property tax relief for residents.

Magnifying the importance of HB 750 is the fact that it is seen as muddying the efforts to steamroll the GRT plan through the legislature. My thoughts are that the stakes are high and getting higher on these issues, which should hopefully force discussions that will only serve to make any final product a better bill.

I was also told this morning that the Senate will likely vote on the Smoke-Free Illinois bill today. Some people very close to the issue said that they anticipate a close, but favorable vote on the matter, sending over to the House for action after the House break.

While all of this is going on, negotiations continue on an issue near and dear to myself and my constituents, namely the extension and improvement of the so-called 7% Bill. This bill is of critical importance to residents in Cook County, and we remain resolute in our efforts to get something to the Governor's desk as soon as possible.

I plan on writing in the near future on some interesting changes in dynamics down here, and what they may hold for the short and near term of Springfield politics.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Settling In?

So imagine my surprise when I walked into City Council Chambers last Friday and saw who was sitting right up in the front row of the gallery - none other than U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. (It was all I could do to not take a picture with my phone.)

At first I thought that he may have just been there just to shake things up a little bit and unnerve everybody, (some type of cutting sense of humor that he has been hiding from the public).

Then I thought maybe he was checking out the seating chart in case his guys, uh, needed to get to somebody quickly. (Just kidding)

Turns out he was there as your average citizen who was seeking approval to an addition to his residence.

I didn't think much about it until yesterday. But now that I think about it, and in light of all of the discussions lately about the Bush administration shuffling out U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, Mr. Fitzgerald's home addition sure doesn't sound like the action of a guy who thinks that he is going to be asked to move out of town anytime soon. I hope he gets to enjoy the Chicago summer, I'm not thinking that he's going to be having too much down time.

Was Just Thinking About...

In the short-term post category:

I have to point out that Dan L may well be the funniest and insightful addition to Illinoize to date. You have to make a point to read his stuff.

My respect to birthday boy Rich Miller for acknowledging on multiple occasions now what a fine job Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has done to date. Rich was pretty tough on him before the election, and I admire his willingness to share his new opinion. I was impressed by Alexi when we first met and I don't see that changing any time. He is a good man beyond his years.

I'm Baaack

I don't know what to say, I have been swamped. I cannot believe that it has been a MONTH since I last posted! I think that it is longest that I have gone since starting this blog.

Between running around between seven committees, trying to move my bills out of committee, handling constituent matters, meetings, etc., the last several weeks in Springfield have been hectic.

And the worst part is that there has been so much stuff going on that I want to weigh in about - the CTA audit, some of my bills, GRT, local politics, tort reform, and on and on.

In the foreseeable future, I think I may just put a bunch of short items up just to get me rolling again. As we move forward, I hope to get back into full swing - for better or worse :)

But Not Often


To those readers living in the 32nd Ward + 43rd Wards:

As you are hopefully aware, there are Aldermanic run-off elections in your wards. These elections are your best opportunity to make your voice heard on issues affecting our neighborhoods.

While the election itself will be on April 17, 2007, early voting starts TODAY.

You can vote any day between today and April 12.

Hours are as follows:

Monday-Saturday 9a.m. – 5p.m.

Sundays: 9.a.m. – noon

While you can vote at any early voting location, the closest ones to these wards are:

Lincoln Park Library, 1150 W. Fullerton Ave.

Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk St.

You can also vote at the Election Board downtown headquarters, located at 69 West Washington Blvd.

Remember – every vote counts, let your voice be heard!