That’ll play in Peoria: Trump’s Illinois transit funding tweet is stale news

An unofficial Trump campaign bus. Image: CBS17.com
An unofficial Trump campaign bus. Image: CBS17.com

Correction 8/19/20: The Active Transportation Alliance tweeted in response to Trump’s Twitter post, “This is a new celebration of old federal aid.” Asked for more info on the subject, ATA spokeperson Kyle Whitehead said, “The President’s tweet references funding from the CARES Act back in March, which is not enough to sustain transit agencies for the duration of this crisis.”

However, Pace spokesperson Maggie Daly-Skoggsbaken said Trump’s tweet actually refers to a federal discretionary grant that has no connection with the CARES or FAST acts. “It’s recent,” she said yesterday. “We got word week before last.”

“Ahh, sorry for my mixup,” said Whitehead.

So, apologies to Streetsblog readers, this post was based on incorrect secondhand info, which I should have double-checked before publishing. It just proves the old reporter saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Earlier today I thought I’d spotted a unicorn: A Donald Trump tweet about my home state that wasn’t awful. After all, Trump loves to tweet offensive statements about crime and civil unrest in Democratic cities like Chicago as a distraction from his administration’s failure to adequately address the COVID-19 crisis and his other political woes. So when I saw this tweet from Wednesday (H/T Jeff Zoline), my first reaction was that the Donald was actually sharing good news about transit funding on social media.

Granted, as a Streetsblog reader pointed out, $18.9 million spread over three transit systems doesn’t go far. That would only pay for about 10 CTA buses.

It’s also worth noting that Trump only mentioned Chicagoland’s suburban bus network and two downstate agencies, Connect Transit in Bloomington-Normal and Peoria’s City Link, rather than the CTA or Metra. Probably not coincidentally, he did much better in the 2016 election in the suburbs and downstate than within Cook County, and he actually won McClean County, where Bloomington-Normal is located.

When I reached out to local transit agencies and advocacy organizations about Trump’s tweet, some of them were confused by it.

“I don’t know what that tweet is referring to,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. “We are still getting our expected allotment of federal capital funding….about $187 million. That amount was set before COVID and has not changed.” Gillis added that Metra is also expecting about $480 million from the previously passed CARES Act coronavirus stimulus package, which the commuter railroad is using for operations, not infrastructure. “That amount is unchanged as well from when the act was approved.”

Metropolitan Planning Council transportation direction Audrey Wennink was also puzzled by the tweet. “Not really not sure what this refers to,” she said. “We are concerned that the Senate adjourned without passing another COVID relief bill –- no HEROES Act — and therefore no additional federal transit funding beyond the CARES Act.

However, the Active Transportation Alliance pointed out on Twitter that while Trump’s tweet wasn’t fake news, it was stale news, since the Donald was actually referring to money from the CARES Act that was passed in late March. ATA also noted the urgency of pushing for adequate funding for transit in the upcoming HEROES act.

ATA’s action alert to Congress calls for $32 billion in relief for transit agencies in Chicago and nationwide. “We’re been working with peer advocates in cities across the U.S. and in D.C. on this effort and were recently part of a national virtual rally that featured [Chicago congressional rep] Chuy Garcia – who’s been leading this effort in the House,” said spokesman Kyle Whitehead. “Other Chicago area members have also been very supportive, but it’s not clear where the White House and Senate GOP stand.”

Whitehead added that the CARES Act funding is not enough to help transit agencies survive the pandemic, when ridership and revenue have plummeted, without resorting to drastic service cuts and/or fare hikes. Currently, projections indicate the Regional Transit Authority, which allocates money to the CTA, Pace, and Metra, will run out of funds in 2021.

So while Trump’s transit tweet was relatively inoffensive and truthful, compared to his usual depressingly low bar, it wasn’t actually saying anything new, but was rather a case of pandering to Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and the ‘burbs. But, hey, he wasn’t blatantly lying or saying anything racist, so maybe we should count that as a win.

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