Airport Shortcut Gets a Boost

Rail or Bus Path Would Connect O'Hare, Midway


By Jon Hilkevitch
Tribune transportation reporter

Date of Publication: November 24, 2002
Source: Chicago Tribune


One of the most ambitious mass-transit projects in decades--providing efficient travel from the Northwest Side to the Southwest Side--has moved up on the agenda, with Chicago officials planning to acquire needed land.

The proposal is called the Mid-City Transitway. Chicago officials want to buy property--mostly idle railroad land--to preserve the corridor for a rail or bus network to run from Jefferson Park or Montrose Avenue near the Kennedy Expressway, south past Midway Airport near Ford City Shopping Center, then east near 75th Street to the Dan Ryan Expressway. About 20 stations would dot the route.

The idea calls to mind the ill-fated Crosstown Expressway, designed a generation ago for cars and trucks, because the north-south section of the corridor follows the Crosstown alignment just east of Cicero Avenue.

But this proposed L-shaped transit line, which could cost at least $1 billion to build, would connect to the CTA's Blue Line near O'Hare International Airport, the Orange Line near Midway and the Red Line between 87th and 91st Streets, officials said.

It also would stop at stations served by the Green Line and the Forest Park and Douglas branches of the Blue Line.

"It's a wonderful idea," said U.S. Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), whose Southwest Side congressional district is choked with traffic congestion. "Over the years, Mayor [Richard] Daley and I have talked about the Crosstown Expressway, what a shame that it wasn't built and how we should use the existing right of way."

City officials don't expect to break ground for a decade on the Mid-City Transitway, but they said it is necessary to bank the land now. Federal funds for projects that mitigate traffic congestion and pollution would be used to buy the land, said Luann Hamilton, director of transportation planning at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

The route would provide direct transit service between O'Hare and Midway and improve access to manufacturing plants near the airports.

Passengers today who need to transfer between the airports face three discouraging options--traveling downtown first on either the Blue or Orange Lines; battling traffic on the Kennedy and Stevenson Expressways; or fighting congestion on such north-south arterials as Cicero, Central or Harlem Avenues.

Also, the transit corridor is intended to improve mobility across neighborhoods in the western part of the city, where efforts to deal with congestion have been largely unsuccessful.

Much of the corridor is on unused freight-railroad right of way that the late Mayor Richard J. Daley envisioned in the 1960s and '70s as becoming the Crosstown Expressway. The north-south section would use the Union Pacific Railroad right of way, a quarter mile east of Cicero Avenue. The east-west leg would operate on Belt Railway of Chicago right of way.

The exact nature of the Mid-City Transitway is still being evaluated, but it will not be a highway, Hamilton said.

"It's too early to say whether the improvement in the corridor will be rail or bus or some hybrid, but it definitely will not be a Crosstown Expressway for automobiles," Hamilton said. "The transportation needs of 30 years ago are not the same as today's need to mitigate congestion and free up north-south arterial streets."

The city has hired consultants to study the feasibility of operating CTA trains or express buses on the corridor--perhaps with a truck route that would siphon commercial vehicles off crowded highways and arterial streets. The right of way is between 50 and 100 feet wide, Hamilton said, adding that there should be enough room for a combination of transit and truck operations.

Another study will gauge the number of potential riders, based on whether the transitway uses trains, buses or both. About 94,000 passengers would ride the line daily, according to a preliminary study done two years ago for the Chicago Area Transportation Study, the region's metropolitan planning organization.

The city hired American Consulting Engineers for $500,000 to do the feasibility study of the corridor's physical layout. Wilbur Smith & Associates got a $160,000 contract for the ridership study.

Hamilton said findings are expected by late spring, when Chicago would begin acquiring land to preserve the corridor for development.

Lipinski said many local projects are competing for start-up funding in the reauthorization of federal transportation legislation next year.

"Right now the [Mid-City Transitway] is not too high on the list of priorities," he said. "But by the same token, that could change."