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Report: Proposed Trump budget could threaten Chicago’s mass transit network

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The administration may reduce funding for Chicago area CTA, RTA, and Amtrak projects

Flickr Creative Commons/Tyler Pate

A number of transportation services including some of Chicago’s most famous long-haul train routes could be on the chopping block under a preliminary spending plan being pushed by President Donald Trump. The so-called "skinny budget" for 2018 would reduce federal funding for transportation by 13 percent. The cuts would be focused exclusively on non-road spending and could threaten well-known train routes including the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder, and the City of New Orleans, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Amtrak isn’t the only transportation network expected to feel the squeeze from Washington. While CTA’s $2.1 billion Red-Purple Line modernization program managed to secure $1.1 billion in matching federal funds during the waning days of the Obama Administration, Trump’s proposed budget could cast serious doubts on a plan to extend the Red Line beyond 95th Street to Chicago’s Far South Side.

The cuts could hinder the RTA’s ability to raise the $12 billion in capital it requires over the next 10 years for the Metra network of commuter trains. In a controversial move, the bill would also privatize the nation’s air traffic control network. Meanwhile, federal highway funding would not be effected.

While few think the bill is close to being passed in its current state, it does provide a glimpse into the administration’s transit priorities. "I think the intent is clear in this proposal. If you drive, you deserve federal funds. If you don't drive, you don't deserve federal funds," Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, told the Chicago Tribune.

A rendering of the prosed 103rd Street Red Line station.

The cuts seem to be at odds with Trump’s election night promise to spend $1 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure. In January, the Kansas City Star published a list of 50 projects that the new administration planned to prioritize. It included a handful of Chicago-area projects such as the redevelopment of Union Station, upgraded locks and dams on Illinois waterways, and the aforementioned Red-Purple Line modernization.

However, with Chicago policymakers standing firm on the city’s pledge to remain a so-called “sanctuary city” for immigrants and the White House threatening to withhold funds from such municipalities, the situation is more uncertain than ever.

While Trump’s full budget won’t be released until May, the bill is expected to move to the forefront of policymaking and receive more attention from Republican lawmakers now that the GOP’s healthcare legislation has been shelved for the time being.