Through-Route Chicago

Paris RER ridership courtesy of “Transport Politic Databook” fourth graph down. Metra data per its ridership reports.

Problem Recall. Chicago’s recent station and route modernization failed. We need a Plan B.

Drawing courtesy of Crossrail Chicago.

Problem >> Solution Summary: Before trains can expand as a serious alternative to the single occupant car, we must through-run Ogilvie and Chicago Union Station (CUS) where eight lines terminate. This new through-station makes possible a higher capacity through-network to serve much of Chicagoland. Key to its growth is the 16th Street Flyover (green) that connects with the three southward lines terminating at Millenium and Lasalle stations. Equally important, the proposed through-authority works with developers to minimize today’s inchoate transit-oriented proposals and, instead, coordinate sustainable redevelopment.

Benefits of Through-Route Chicago. The proposed independent, federally-funded study should explore and detail three specific benefits that an Ogilvie/CUS through-station triggers.

1: Illinois and Chicago will be relieved of this financial burden that neither can carry.  With U.S. funding currently in retreat, Illinois’ future share for transit is rising to an impossible 50%. Chicago has talked about a West Loop multi-modal hub for two decades… but only built its easiest component, a bus station.

2: The through-network will reduce stress four ways. First, the peak hour CTA “L” will need relief after the pandemic passes. Second, recent and future urban redevelopments need high capacity mobility options and they are stimulated best by trains. Third, reducing road congestion will happen after decades of failed promises. Finally, the proposed pilot lays the groundwork to reduce stress between Chicago and its suburbs as Uncle Sam, possibly in a receivership role, will govern this shared infrastructure for mutual benefit until a new metropolitan entity forms.

3: A Through-network supports housing and transportation policies for a governing coalition that is more sustainable and equitable.

To be funded in the 2021 rendition of The INVEST Act, the proposed independent through-station study explores how a federal authority and assets (Amtrak’s railyard) should support the next generation of train service and re-development. Our study will revive three moribund initiatives: the 2012 CUS Master Plan; the O’Hare Express (blue line below) that runs through to McCormick Place; and a frequent Metra Electric service to the southside (dark green and brown lines below.) 

Drawing also courtesy of Crossrail Chicago.

These three separate initiatives get revived and synergistically combined if we through-run CUS and convert Amtrak’s railyard into a new urban center whose value capture also contributes to paying back the federal loans.

This study also proposes how to manage developing this public asset; starting with the 20 mile corridor from O’Hare to McCormick Place. Recall that corridors organized the 19th Century development of rail; and are our best bet to organize rapid redevelopment. Instead of limited progress getting swallowed-up by bureaucratic county-based bodies like Metra, consider Through-Route Chicago as an early experiment to reshape metropolitan planning so plans get implemented.

Rationally evolve the metro using trains. With Chicagoland’s growth sputtering after three decades of progress, trains are probably the metro’s chief public asset to assist strategic, sustainable redevelopment. Yet the lessons from Chicagoland’s award-winning 2010 Plan — which included the now-halted CUS/Ogilvie through-run — is we need better tools to make more of redevelopment proposals. A few similar disjointed touch-points are on the downtown diagram (above courtesy of Crossrail Chicago.)  The stop before the Ogilvie/Union Station through-station is the proposed Ashland Avenue station to serve the Fulton Market extension of downtown; currently not connected to the metropolis. Next, note the light blue that goes through the Amtrak rail yard (the next downtown extension) and “The 78” (dotted) which is a former rail yard vacant for 40 years. Both The 78 and Amtrak’s yards get redeveloped faster with the second key train connection, the 16th Street Flyover. This, in turn, serves metropolitan mobility with an enhanced through-network. At its joint is the most recent disjoint, the state-approved development adjacent to Soldier Field whose initial approvals were made without municipal input.  

Only a metro authority can effectively coordinate all these developments and prepare their train infrastructure so it serves all of Chicago and the metro. The pandemic slowdown gives us time to coordinate trains and redevelopment. Extending Metra’s bailouts should be tied to its willingness to cede the improvement of these federal assets to a vigorous authority.

Through-Route Chicago is the initial project of the U.S. Campaign to INVEST in Metropolitan Rail.

We ask that The Through-Route Chicago study be written into the 2021 rendition of The INVEST Act that passed the U.S. House in June 2020 and be made law by a new Senate and Executive.

A Phase 2, Through-Route Chicagoland, will include participating municipalities in Cook County. A Phase 3 will include participating municipalities in the metro’s collar counties that want to redevelop as the metro’s sub-centers.

Please send comments to rcmunson@icloud.com.

Background for concept progression:

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