Skokie Swift extension gets backing of mayor


By Kathy Routliffe

Date of Publication: January 8, 2004
Source: Skokie Review


The Skokie Swift rail line extension proposal enthusiastically backed by Mayor George Van Dusen got thumbs up in 2003 from teams who reviewed the concept in two separate transit studies.

It got dozens of thumbs down from residents who live near the extension's probable route should it ever become reality.

Despite that, the Village Board in November approved a recommendation from its plan commissioners to include a favorable Swift extension feasibility study in Skokie's comprehensive plan. That doesn't guarantee any extension.

During hearings in June many told Skokie officials the project, which would cost more than $300 million, would usher noise, road safety problems, traffic congestion and lowered property values into the northwest Skokie neighborhoods in which they live.

"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."

He and others urged planners to consider how running the Swift north, possibly past Old Orchard Junior High and Jane Stenson schools could affect student safety, and traffic delays on Golf and Old Orchard roads.

The feasibility study from Chicago-based Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade and Douglas was done on behalf of Skokie, the state and the federal government.

It recommended building a new Oakton Street station on the line, which the consultants believe could heat up downtown development. That brought cautious approval from Skokie Chamber of Commerce director Sandi Stamp.

Building the station could cost $18 million and operating it could cost up to $445,300 annually. But what angered area residents the most was the study's recommendation to run the line north from its current Dempster Street terminus to the Old Orchard Road area. Depending on the route, and whether it is built below, at, or above grade, capital costs could range from $154 million to $301 million and annual operations could cost $1.1 million.

Consultants said more study is legally necessary if there is to be any chance of winning federal money over the long term, including studying "locally preferred" transit alternatives and measuring their cost effectiveness against the extension proposals.

In September, when plan commissioners forwarded their approval to village trustees, Ilene Diamond of the 9600 block of Laramie Lane asked why further study was needed.

"It's a big waste of time. It's obvious there's a lot of opposition to this, so why go on and on and on?"

The Parsons study wasn't the only one to look favorably on Swift line growth. In July the Chicago Area Transportation Study recommended the extension, something Van Dusen said would signal to U.S. senators and House members of Illinois "that the Swift is a regionally supported project. It would add another measure of support to it."

And there was some local residential support among the nay-sayers. Jay Siegel of the 9400 block of North Lockwood Avenue told plan commissioners in September, "You have to understand that the Edens (Expressway) is a parking lot now. I actually think it should be extended all the way up o Lake-Cook Road."