Mayors Back Metra Rail Plan

Line Would Link O'Hare, Suburbs


By Amanda Vogt
Tribune Staff Reporter

Date of Publication: May 15, 2003
Source: Chicago Tribune


After six years of debating mass transit options, a consortium of northwest suburban mayors endorsed Metra's proposed STAR line Wednesday as the way to usher suburb-to-suburb commuting into the 21st Century.

At a news conference, northwest municipal leaders announced their unanimous preference for STAR--55 miles of rail lines from O'Hare International Airport to Hoffman Estates and south to Joliet--over proposals from the CTA and Pace.

"There was no dissent," Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said after the municipal leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting at the Elk Grove Village Municipal Complex. "We compromised to find the best alternative for the greatest number of people in the region."

Regional Transportation Authority staff members will consider the task force's vote and make a recommendation Monday to the RTA board. The board will make its decision June 5, officials said.

"I would think the RTA would adopt our recommendation," said Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, leader of the Northwest Transit Corridor Municipal Task Force. The committee is made up of leaders from 10 communities on the route: Arlington Heights, Chicago, Des Plaines, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Mt. Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont and Schaumburg.

The STAR line--running along Interstate Highway 90 from O'Hare to Hoffman Estates and via the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad line to Joliet--would provide the best link to existing service, cost the least per mile to construct and serve a large portion of the region, the group said.

Another point in Metra's favor--in addition to its track record in the suburbs--is that the STAR project, unlike the CTA proposal, is not linked to expansion at O'Hare, Larson said.

The CTA plan would provide for either a north alignment via Arlington Heights or a south alignment via Elk Grove Village, extending the Blue Line rapid transit from O'Hare to Schaumburg on the median of the Northwest Tollway.

CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said her agency's plan may be down but it's not out. "We're waiting on the RTA's decision," she said.

Pace proposed the only alternative that would serve the entire area between Rosemont and Elgin. Pace Executive Director T. J. Ross said Wednesday's vote was disappointing but he was encouraged by the mayors' "investment in public transportation."

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, who opposed any plan connected to airport expansion, said STAR would best alleviate traffic congestion caused by the 100,000 commuters who come into the village's industrial park each day to work.

"The new service connects suburb to suburb and people's homes to their jobs. It will spur commuters to leave their cars at home and ride the train to work," Johnson said.

The proposed stops on the northwest line are: O'Hare Airport; Des Plaines at Elmhurst Road; Elk Grove Village at Busse Road; Arlington Heights at Arlington Heights Road; Rolling Meadows at Golf Road; Schaumburg at IKEA; Schaumburg at Roselle Road; Hoffman Estates at Barrington Road; and Hoffman Estates at Prairie Stone Development.

The stops along the EJ&E rail would be: Hoffman Estates at Golf Road; Elgin-Bartlett at Spaulding Road; West Chicago at Washington Street; Aurora at Ferry Road; Aurora-Naperville at Eola Road; Naperville at 95th Street; Plainfield at Illinois Highway 126; and Joliet at Division Street.

Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said he was impressed by STAR's operational strengths. Each car would carry 100 passengers and be self-propelled by an advanced diesel engine, making it more fuel efficient and quicker to accelerate than conventional locomotives.

STAR's projected price tag--$543 million for the I-90 portion of the route, or $26 million per mile--and the fact that Metra is only asking towns with stops on the route to contribute about $5 million per station made it viable for Rolling Meadows, Mayor Kenneth Nelson said.

"Cost is a major consideration for us," he said. "The cost, combined with higher ridership projections [than the alternatives], justified our decision."

Communities sharing a stop, such as Elk Grove Village and Arlington Heights, would split the cost of building a station.

Mulder said securing matching money for the project shouldn't be difficult, saying funding is available to municipalities for projects that get people out of their cars and benefit the environment.

Larson praised the work of task force leaders.

"Skeptics have said there's no such thing as regional cooperation," Larson said. "But ... we put aside our differences for the good of the region."

The ultimate success of the project--which is expected to be operating in 6 to 10 years--will depend largely on securing federal funding via the federal transportation bill, officials said. But they expressed confidence the support would materialize.