By Rogers Worthington
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Date of Publication: May 6, 1998
Source: Chicago Tribune
For years, public officials have talked about the need for mass transit to carry the growing legion of reverse commuters from Chicago to the job-rich northwest suburbs.
But no transportation agency has been willing to front the money for a serious look at the best way to ferry workers through the increasingly congested northwest corridor, where traffic on some roadways is up to 4 1/2 times capacity.
On Tuesday, however, the Regional Transportation Authority's planning committee recommended signing a $448,462 contract with a New Jersey consulting and engineering company. The full RTA board is expected to approve the deal Thursday.
The consultant's one-year mission will be to identify several cost-effective ways to improve transportation through the heart of the northwest suburbs.
"It's a highly congested corridor with almost as many jobs as people," said Sidney E. Weseman, the RTA's planning manager, who will oversee the project.
The five suburbs involved in the project--Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Rosemont, Rolling Meadows and Hoffman Estates--were unanimous in picking the consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc.
"This is great news," said Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, who favors extending the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line to his village from its current end point at O'Hare International Airport.
"This means we can proceed and ultimately, hopefully, have some kind of rapid mass-transit corridor along the toll road, bringing people out to where the jobs are and carrying suburbanites to O'Hare."
Transportation options will include high-occupancy toll lanes on the Northwest Tollway. The study also will analyze rail and other transit options along the tollway as well as other major roadways.
Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson hailed the study as potentially having "tremendous benefits" for the entire region.
"It will be good for Chicago, for O'Hare airport, for the northwest suburbs, for everyone involved," he said.
Parsons Brinckerhoff will answer to a committee made up of representatives of the RTA, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and the five participating northwest suburbs.
The RTA will advance the entire cost of the contract, with the toll authority and the municipalities reimbursing the agency for two-thirds of the expense.
When it joined the corridor effort, the tollway authority suspended plans for constructing an additional lane on the Northwest Tollway from just east of the Tri-State Tollway west to Roselle Road. But the tollway is under no obligation to surrender its right of way for mass-transit use, if that is the solution selected.
Still, Weseman said he is cheered by the tollway's willingness to participate in the corridor project, the first time the agency has done so with the RTA, he said.
"They're open to considering things other than an added lane. I think that's a very positive sign," he said.
After reviewing market analysis data for the region, Parsons Brinckerhoff will produce by July 31 an overview of the corridor's transportation needs, Weseman said.
In doing so, the firm must consider proposed transportation projects and their potential impact, such as the proposed extension of Illinois Highway 53 into Lake County, Weseman said.
Next, the firm will solicit ideas from all the participants in the project and will hold public meetings to gather input.
If agreement is reached on a solution, it could then be included in the scheduled review in two years of the Chicago Area Transportation Plan for the year 2020. The project must be included in the plan to receive federal funding.
In other business Tuesday, the RTA's planning committee recommended approval of a $70,000 Metra feasibility study for passenger service on Metra's Union Pacific/CSX freight line in the south suburbs to Crete and Monee.
The committee also recommended spending $29.5 million to upgrade signals on the CTA's Red Line, an additional $1 million to expand storage at the CTA's Kimball Yard for the Brown Line and $79,500 for a contract with a California company to study Pace's marketing and strategic plans.