Swift Line Extension Draws Input


By Kathy Routliffe

Date of Publication: July 3, 2003
Source: Skokie Review


About 50 Skokie residents attended a public hearing last Thursday to learn more about a proposal to expand the Skokie Swift CTA line.

It could cost more than $300 million and take well over a decade to complete, consultant Art Peterson told the audience at Skokie Village Hall.

Some who live north of the existing line worried about the noise, safety problems, traffic congestion and lowered property values an extension could bring to their neighborhoods. Others, however, urged Skokie to move ahead on the proposal, saying it could lure more people, business - and sales tax dollars - into the village.

The proposal would include an 1100-foot-long Oakton Street station near Skokie Boulevard, with entries at Oakton and near the Pfizer office campus on Searle Parkway.

It would push the line north from Dempster to the Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard mall or to Old Orchard Road. And it would transform the current single-track system to double-track.

"I am concerned with what it could do to my neighborhood," Howard Frank said. "I live right on Terminal (Avenue) right off Golf Road and this will run in my back yard. And it's an awful lot to pay to add another quarter-mile of track."

Frank and several others urged planners to consider how running the Swift north, possibly past the Old Orchard Junior High and Jane Stenson schools, could affect student safety. Frank also warned that bringing the Swift across Golf and up to Old Orchard Road would cause even more traffic delays on those already busy streets.

Several other audience members supported Swift expansion.

Sandi Stamp, director of the Skokie Chamber of Commerce said she was "cautious, but excited" about what the project could mean for businesses, especially in downtown Skokie, adding "I'm very excited about the possibilities."

One unidentified speaker said the project shows Skokie is a "forward-thinking" community for backing public transportation and reminded listeners that the project's projected prices are balanced by its long-term good. He said a good public transportation system is more apt to increase property values than lower them.

Peterson's company, Parsons Brinkrhoff Quade and Douglas, is studying Swift expansion feasibility for Skokie, the state and the federal government. Input from the public hearing will go into the final report, due , along with a preliminary engineering study, at the end of the summer.

Cost estimates, which Peterson said were developed as conservatively as possible, project $18 million to build the Oakton station; between $21 and $32 million to rebuild and improve the Dempster Street station; and $36-$43 million to build an Old Orchard station. It would cost $6 million to buy four more CTA cars for the larger run.

And it could cost between $73-202 million to build the extension from Dempster to Old Orchard, depending on which of three route alternatives is chosen.

One would go up the old Union Pacific Railroad line west of the Edens Expressway (between $73-$190 million); the second would go east of the Edens then head west to go just north of Niles North ($107-$202 million); and the third would also run east of the Edens up to Old Orchard Road ($91-$179 million).

Peterson said planners would address safety concerns by looking at the possibility of running the Swift line over or under streets and through deep cuts that could be fenced off. That could also cut noise problems with neighbors, he said.

Rail planning currently is aimed at eliminating at-grade crossings, he said.

Peterson also said a longer line with an Oakton station could indeed pay off in a revived downtown area, easing access for workers and for Oakton Community College students.

Officials with the Pfizer pharmaceutical company say having an Oakton Swift station on the planning board could make their downtown property easier to sell, he said. Pfizer is closing its downtown and northern offices and hoping to sell the buildings.

The extension could also make it easier for shoppers, mall employees and students to reach Niles North High School and the adjacent shopping mall, he said.

But such a massive program will need strong legislative support in Washington, the source of most transportation project money, Peterson said. The earliest an Oakton station could be built would be 2008 or 2009.