In a couple of days, a man will be laid to rest who was a dedicated husband, father, friend and 22-year legislator. I will forever remember Philip J. Rock as a man with a masterful ability to work with both sides of the aisle in Springfield; as a result, every transit rider in our region benefits from his work every day.
Serving as president of the Illinois state Senate, Rock worked with his colleagues to create the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) -- the unit of local government charged with regional, financial and budgetary oversight, as well as funding and transit planning for the CTA, Metra and Pace SuburbanBus and Pace Americans with Disabilities Act Paratransit Service.
In his book, “Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello,” Sen. Rock describes 1973 as a contentious year for transit. “All the public transportation services were on their own and threatening to increase fares significantly or stop running,” Rock wrote. “Public transportation provided a crisis atmosphere in Springfield.
“That is why it made sense to a lot of legislators, including me, to establish a regional transit authority,” Rock continued. “I believed then, and I said on the floor, that public transportation was an issue for the whole state and not just for the users.”
Rock not only helped create the RTA, but also continued working with legislators to remind them of the importance of the RTA and the need for continual funding.
For years Rock would invite new members, especially downstaters, to spend the evening in his Oak Park home so he could take them to the Lake Street “L” (now the Green Line) at 7:15 a.m. to witness the thousands of early morning commuters. He once said to a senator from the city of Anna, “There are more people on this train at this moment than you have in your whole county.”
He clearly understood the impact our transit network had on the economy of the entire state. For example, if Metra commuter trains did not operate, we’d have to add 29 new lanes of expressways in Chicagoland, significantly reducing the amount of money available for roads across the rest of the state.
Thanks to Sen. Rock's dedication and vision, today the RTA region’s system covers about 3,700 square miles and serves approximately 8.4 million residents providing two million daily rides each workday.
I had the honor to work with Sen. Rock in numerous scenarios in Springfield and always considered him the consummate gentleman and a personal role model; and now I have the honor of carrying out his passion for the RTA. I wish I could pick up the phone right now just to say thanks and “hello.”
Kirk Dillard, who served in the state Senate for 20 years, now chairs the Regional Transportation Authority