Taking Strides to Craft a Transit Plan Like Dad's
By Greg Hinz
Date of Publication: November 4, 2002
Source: Crain's Chicago Business
City Hall is revisiting one of the legendary battles in recent Chicago political history, commissioning a pair of outside studies to help it decide how to improve transportation in the so-called Crosstown Corridor adjacent to Cicero Avenue.
Under consideration by planners is everything from an el line linking O'Hare International and Midway airports to a truck-and-bus-only highway that would be a mini version of the defunct Crosstown Expressway once championed by Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Either would run along a 15-mile stretch of what is now railroad right-of- way between the Kennedy and Stevenson expressways eventually extending east to the Dan Ryan Expressway, along 75th Street.
"It could be rapid transit. It could be a busway. It could be bus and truck. We don't know yet," said Luanne Hamilton, director of transportation planning for the city Department of Transportation, which has hired two consultants for a total $660,000. "We're trying to find out what's feasible."
The city consultants began work this summer and are slated to report in mid- 2003.
A rare defeat for Richard J.
The battle over the Crosstown Expressway raged for more than a decade in the late 1960s and 1970s, pitting Mr. Daley against then-Gov. Daniel Walker.
The mayor and traffic engineers strongly argued that the expressway would help West Side manufacturers by providing better access to their plants, and enable motorists to get quickly between the Northwest and Southwest sides without traveling all the way downtown.
But the project would have required the demolition of thousands of homes and businesses. With Gov. Walker championing their cause, community opponents eventually handed Mr. Daley one of the few big defeats of his 21-year tenure.
Since then, the city occasionally has floated the idea of building a rapid transit line in the corridor. Plans for such a mid-city el line were referenced as recently as July, when the city mentioned the possibility in unveiling its new Central Area Plan.
But the idea of a roadway hasn't died. The city now is considering it along with other options and has begun spending money to study the issue, even though officials say any construction likely is at least a decade away.
'Worth looking into'
In the first study, a $500,000 review being conducted by Chicago-based American Consulting Engineers LLC, the city hopes to find out just how much space is available along freight rail tracks running about a quarter mile east of Cicero Avenue.
The tracks are used by Omaha-based Union Pacific (UP) Corp. and Chicago's Belt Railway Co. The available right-of-way in the corridor is believed to be between 50 and 100 feet wide; the land requirement would depend on whether the city built something at street level or constructed an elevated structure or raised roadway.
The UP/Belt Line corridor runs from the Kennedy Expressway to the Stevenson Expressway. The city plans later to hire another consultant to review the right-of-way on another stretch of railroad land, from the Stevenson east to the Dan Ryan Expressway along 75th Street.
The second study begun this summer is being conducted by the Chicago office of South Carolina-based Wilbur Smith & Associates, which is developing ridership estimates for any rapid transit or bus line.
The city says it is not considering a roadway as wide as an interstate, but might need to acquire additional land. Minimizing any displacement will be a key point to area residents, according to Alderman William J. P. Banks, whose 36th Ward covers a portion of the route on the Northwest Side.
Assuming the city can stick to the UP/Belt Line right-of-way, "this is an idea well worth looking into," Mr. Banks said. "It does make sense to study" whether lightly used rail routes could be put to better use, he added.
Local residents probably would lean toward a truck road rather than an el line, unless the design was innovative, Mr. Banks said. But if a significant number of residents were displaced, "it would create a very contentious issue."
The city also may consider improvements along Cicero Avenue itself, the Transportation Department's Ms. Hamilton said.
No cost projections are available, but any work likely would have to compete against dozens of other area projects that Congress will consider next year, when it is expected to pass a new, multiyear transit funding bill.