A new report indicating the CTA, Metra and Pace face $36 billion in capital demands over the next decade is a “red flag” that the region needs to “catch up,” RTA chairman Kirk Dillard said Thursday.

Two RTA board members questioned if the latest assessment from the RTA was realistic given that it considers a train over 25 years old to be “beyond its useful life” and part of the “backlog” of  “deferred maintenance.’’

Because some Metra trains are 50 years old, the report “is somewhat painting a picture worse than it is,” RTA board member Blake Hobson of McHenry County said during a monthly RTA meeting Thursday.

Board member William Coulson of suburban Cook County tended to agree, saying a 25-year cutoff seemed “arbitrary.”

However, RTA chief financial officer Bea Reyna-Hickey said the 25 years is an “industry” and “peer” standard and the RTA needs “a starting point” to identify and prioritize the region’s capital transit needs.

Over the next 10 years, the Chicago area faces $16.6 billion in normal transit maintenance, replacement and rehab plus $19.5 billion in “deferred” capital needs, a new RTA condition assessment report indicated Thursday. Together, that totals $36 billion.

Spread out annually, that means the system will need $1.66 billion a year over the next 10 years just to maintain what it has and keep the current “deferred” backlog from growing.

However, the RTA estimated the region’s state and federal transit funds will be half of what’s needed over the next 20 years to ensure the “deferred” backlog does not grow.
Dillard Thursday instructed staff to put together a task force of RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace representatives to strategize on how to prioritize, finance and sell capital transit needs to lawmakers.

The task force will “come up with a message about our collective needs,’’ Dillard said.

Even if the numbers are slightly off, the demands are still huge, Dillard told reporters afterward.

“Whether it’s $36 billion or $25 billion, it’s a red flag that you are way behind and you have to do something to catch up,” Dillard said. The longer repairs are put off, the more costly to operate and less reliable rolling stock becomes, RTA officials noted.

Dillard said more people are working in downtown Chicago than at any point in 20 years. Plus, millennials seem to be gravitating toward using public transit over driving.

The new governor, Bruce Rauner, and legislative leaders need to be convinced that “mass transit leads to job creation,” Dillard said.

“If you want a world-class city you have to have world class infrastructure,” said Dillard, co-chair of Rauner’s infrastructure transition committee.

The RTA’s capital asset condition report found that 43 percent of the CTA’s assets and 40 percent of Metra’s assets are in either “worn” or “marginal” condition. However, Reyna-Hickey said, that doesn’t mean they are “unsafe” because such assets are still “operational.”

When Pace buses are folded in, 30 percent of the region’s assets have exceeded their useful life. That’s the third-highest percent among peers — behind Dallas, at 41 percent, and New York, at 31 percent, the report found.

However, the Chicago area is tops in squeezing the most out of its equipment. It gets the most miles between major mechanical failures among nine peers, the report found.