Chicago: Investment in subways, buses would aid Olympic bid

(Detnews) -Mass transit in Chicago is good enough for the officials in charge of the city's Olympic bid -- so long as it gets repaired soon.

"Chicago 2016 is not asking for specific improvements for the Olympics -- rather the funding and backing of already-planned transit improvements," operations chief for the Chicago 2016 Committee Doug Arnot said. "While not required, improvements would enhance Chicago's bid."

Arnot was appearing before a highways and transit subcommittee in the U.S. House on Monday. The hearing took place as state lawmakers tried to finish a deal on new mass-transit funds. The Chicago Transit Authority has warned of fare increases and service cuts if state lawmakers in Springfield don't find a way to raise the money by Sunday.

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The International Olympic Committee is expected to scrutinize transit systems as it selects a city to host the Games. At least two of the competing cities, Madrid and Tokyo, boast modern and well-funded subways.

The other cities are: Baku, Azerbaijan; Doha, Qatar; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Prague, Czech Republic. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city on Oct. 2, 2009.

Chicago's subway and bus systems are extensive and around 90 percent of proposed venues will be accessible using currently available mass transit and some temporary services, Arnot said.

But the networks have fallen into disrepair over the years, and CTA chief Ron Huberman told committee members that the systems need urgent injections of cash if long-delayed repairs and upgrades are to get done in time for the Olympics.

Some stretches of Chicago's 242 miles of subway track are so shoddy that as a precaution trains designed to travel more than 50 mph must plod along at around 5 mph, CTA officials have said. The average age of subway train cars is more than 20 years old.

"If brought up to good states of repair ... we can handle the Olympics," Huberman said. He added that more than $6 billion will have to be invested in the coming years.

Others testifying Monday said the prospect of a Chicago Olympics could provide the needed incentive -- with the help of federal dollars -- to finally bring its more than century-old mass transit networks into the 21st century.

"But we will need your help as Chicago will be representing our entire nation when we host the Olympics," said David Kennedy, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies-Illinois.

Several demonstrators who oppose Chicago's Olympic bid and want more spending on mass transit briefly disrupted Monday's hearing, forcing a 15-minute delay. One of the protesters shouted, "We don't need the Olympics, we need the CTA."

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