Surprise CTA Detour


By Robert McCoppin

Date of Publication: October 4, 2002
Source: Daily Herald


A new CTA proposal to extend the Blue Line train to Schaumburg would send trains through O'Hare International Airport and DuPage County, marking a surprise deviation from previously discussed routes.

The new proposal is one of two CTA options, both of which would tunnel under O'Hare to link with a proposed western airport terminal.

For a larger view, click here. (Graphic by the Daily Herald)

Some Northwest suburban leaders are concerned because the DuPage route would bypass their municipalities. They also fear that running the extension through a new O'Hare terminal would make it dependent on expanding O'Hare.

In the more familiar of the two proposals, the elevated train route would leave O'Hare and follow the Northwest Tollway in Cook County, as previously discussed by transportation planners.

It would go from O'Hare's existing terminal to a new western terminal, head to Elk Grove Village's industrial park, then stop along the tollway in Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows and Schaumburg.

The alternate proposal would route the "el" west along the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway, then north up the I-290 extension. It would have stops in Wood Dale/Bensenville, Itasca, Elk Grove and Schaumburg.

Both lines would stop near Woodfield Shopping Center and end at a planned Schaumburg Convention Center. Both trips would take about 15 minutes from O'Hare to Schaumburg and could be extended to the north or west.

Both routes would also offer access to O'Hare from the east and west and provide reverse commuting from Chicago to the suburbs. In addition, most stops would have parking lots and bus transfer stations.

The proposals provide the most concrete plans yet for extending mass transit farther into the Northwest suburbs, a concept that has been discussed for years as a way to shorten travel times on overloaded roads. But both proposals would depart at least in part from the path along the Northwest Tollway that has been considered all along.

The southern route bypasses the tollway almost altogether, and the northern route would miss part of Des Plaines previously covered in discussions. Both plans would stop short of Hoffman Estates and Elgin.

Because of the deviations, the CTA routes are drawing concerned reactions from some suburban mayors.

"The one along the (Northwest) tollway makes more sense from the standpoint of population density and employment density," said Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, who is leading a study of options for bringing mass transit to the Northwest suburbs. He said it would also do more to serve the towns that are currently in the study.

Whether those towns would be served by the CTA is significant, because they have already ponied up money for the study, and their leaders did not take kindly to now being cut out of the route.

"I was shocked," Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said of learning about the southern route. "It was out of context and Johnny-come-lately. … Why should we want to fund a service that would not really benefit Arlington Heights?"

Mulder said the mass transit plan should stick to the Northwest Tollway because that's where the congestion is, and where communities have been paying to study the issue.

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said he hopes the proposal will not be held hostage to the proposed expansion of O'Hare, which he opposes.

"I don't want to be locked into the (airport) expansion for this to go forward," Johnson said. "All of a sudden, we're seeing things take a different direction."

Asked about the rationale for the new DuPage plan, CTA spokeswoman Robyn Zeigler could not say why the new option was proposed, other than it meets the CTA's goals of increasing ridership and broadening the area the agency serves. The project would also complement CTA plans to run express trains from downtown Chicago to O'Hare, Zeigler said. She added that the CTA considers both proposals separate from O'Hare expansion plans.

Herb Gardner, a member of the Regional Transportation Authority, which is overseeing the study and will help make the ultimate decision, supported the CTA-O'Hare concept as one option.

"We need to look at all the alternatives," he said.

One advantage of going through O'Hare, Gardner said, might be the chance to use airport funds to help pay for the project.

But tunneling under O'Hare could be too expensive, he added, especially in competition with other CTA proposals to build a new line around the west Loop and to extend the Orange Line past Midway Airport.

If the Senate passes legislation to expand O'Hare, Gardner said, it would make the political debate moot.

"Once the legislation passes, they're going to expand O'Hare," he said. "Then either get on the train or watch it go by."

At O'Hare, spokeswoman Monique Bond said only that airport officials are working closely with the CTA and support the plan.

The DuPage Mayors & Managers Conference has proposed express bus service along the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway into O'Hare but would be happy to look at the CTA's proposal, if it fits into the big picture for the region, said transportation program Director Michelle Ryan.

The CTA's plan recently came to light after first surfacing last month at a presentation for suburban officials.

The CTA's plan is just one of several being considered as part of the study. The study focuses on ways to improve transit in the Northwest suburbs, in the cone-shaped corridor between the Union Pacific Northwest Metra line and the Milwaukee District West line.

The RTA, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and Northwest suburbs are sharing the $480,000 cost of the study.

Like the CTA, the suburban bus agency Pace is proposing its own options for extending mass transit west from Rosemont.

One option would run an express bus along the shoulders of the Northwest Tollway with limited stops to Barrington Road. Another would provide a special bus rapid transit lane along the tollway with stops to Randall Road.

A third option would build a bus rapid transit route with stops along main arterial roads. Instead of using tollway, it would depend on buses being able to automatically get green lights to improve travel times.

Metra, the commuter rail agency, is also working on a concept, which it is expected to disclose this month.

Suburban officials are also considering a light rail option, like one they toured in St. Louis, which Larson said was fast, smooth and quiet.

Public meetings to discuss each proposal are being planned for late October or early November in the Northwest suburbs.

Construction of any of the options would be at least several years away and would depend on getting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Daily Herald staff writer Natasha Korecki contributed to this report.