There are still quite a few hurdles before Metra commuter rail service might come to Kendall County, but local officials are taking a long-range approach.
Oswego Village President Gail Johnson, Yorkville Mayor Gary Golinski, Montgomery Village President Matt Brolley, and Plano Mayor Bob Hausler met with staff and representatives of the Regional Transportation Authority in Chicago recently to discuss the possibility of the service being extended to the county.
"The meeting was to get an idea of the actual nuts and bolts of what we need to do to get Metra to Kendall County," Hausler said. "It was very informative and I thought it was a good meeting to have. We do have a lot of work that we need to do to work with the legislators and work with the citizens of Kendall County to have the support for bringing Metra to Kendall County."
Johnson said the RTA officials told the mayors that for Kendall County to join the RTA the agency would have to reopen the state RTA Act, passed in 1974 via referendum in conjunction with the formation of the agency.
"The question we always get is, 'When are you going to join the RTA?'" Johnson said. "Well, they said it is years too early for us to be talking about that. For Kendall County to join the RTA, they have to reopen the Act, which they are not in a hurry to do, as you can imagine."
Johnson said when the RTA Act was written and passed in the 1970s, there was "no discussion of Kendall County" joining the RTA. For example, the population of the entire county was 26,374 in 1970 according to Census records, much less than the current Census population estimate for just the village of Oswego at 34,833.
"Even when we started talking about [Metra] 20 years ago, that Act had already been passed," she said.
Johnson said Metra service could be extended into Kendall County without joining the RTA, but that the local government and taxpayers would then "bear all the costs."
Johnson said the summit with RTA leaders was positive.
“They were very clear that if you come and you’ve got your funding lined up, your case is a much better case to be made,” she said. “We know that we’re taking the right steps. They were not negative.”
Golinski said RTA officials were honest about the challenges to bring Metra into the county.
"It was a very productive meeting," Golinski said. "They were very helpful, very honest with the fact that a lot of things really have to fall into place to bring Metra into Kendall County. Obviously the two biggest hurdles are funding and gaining some political support for it."
However, Golinski said the local governments were "on the right track" to bringing the service to the area.
"They said you're on the right track, and you have to keep doing all the legwork, gaining the support, gaining the funding source," he said. "It's something that's gonna have to go out to referendum eventually if we wanted to join the RTA, and it's something the RTA board would have to vote on eventually. But getting everyone to recognize that it's a regional issue, and a county our size that's one of the fastest growing areas in the nation not having any public transit, it seems remiss not to look at and start planning for it."
Golinski compared it to the long-range planning for the treatment of drinking water in the area.
"I kind of put Metra in that same basket: We're taking a long view of it, and it's not something that's happening tomorrow, but we've gotta start laying the groundwork for the future," he said. "The growth that's gonna come, we gotta be ready for it."