Destination 2020


Published by: Chicago Area Transportation Study
Publishing date: 1998

Plan Summary:

The 2020 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was the long-range guide for major transportation investments in northeastern Illinois from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. The 2020 RTP recommended major transportation projects, systems, policies and strategies designed to maintain the existing transportation system and serve the region's future travel needs. The many agencies responsible for operating and maintaining the region's transportation system were to develop their plans and programs within the 2020 RTP framework.

The plan emphasized improvements to the existing expressway, arterial, and transit systems and included policies in support of bicycle and pedestrian transportation and intermodal freight needs. To stretch limited transportation dollars, the plan incorporated transportation management and congestion management strategies.

The plan's assessment of the projected financial resources indicated that there would not be enough resources to substantially expand the transportation system. The majority of projected resources would barely be enough to keep pace with the growing capital maintenance needs of the existing system, which included repair, replacement, and reconstruction of parts of the system. Some tough choices were made to select the several new projects identified in the plan.

Trends in the Metropolitan Area

  • Since 1950, most of the region's population growth has taken place in the suburbs. Between 1950 and 1970, the six-county population grew by 35 percent, and between 1950 and 1990 the population of the five "collar" counties more than doubled to 1.5 million.
  • The average household size in the region has steadily decreased from 3.3 in 1950, to 3.2 in 1970, to 2.7 in 1990.
  • Suburban areas have led the region in employment growth since 1970.
  • Changes in regional development have contributed to a rapid growth in suburb-to-suburb trips. At the same time, the demand for the traditional suburb-to-city trip has remained strong.
  • Since 1970, transit ridership had dropped steadily, while the growth in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) has outpaced regional population, household and employment growth.


Expansion and Addition Projects:

Each component of the 2020 RTP comprised one piece of the overall framework for transportation improvements through 2020. The components worked together to improve the performance of the system and meet the regional goals and objectives.

The 2020 Regional Transportation Plan recognized the need for maintenance, rehabilitation, and preservation of our existing system. Capital maintenance included all maintenance activities that are not routine. Capital maintenance projects protected the safety and efficiency of the system and can extended the useful life of existing facilities. While more than 80% of projected resources were devoted to the capital maintenance of the existing system, the cost of bringing the transit and state-maintained highway systems to a fully renovated condition still exceeded projected funding.


The 2020 RTP contained 20 major transit and highway infrastructure projects, three of which pertained directly to the CTA rapid transit system:

  • Mid-City Transitway: A transit corridor that extends south from around Montrose or Jefferson Park on the Blue Line, roughly paralleling Cicero Avenue, to Ford City/74th Street, where it turns east and joins the Red Line at approximately 87th Street. This line would primarily serve non-CBD riders and has a high projected ridership.
  • Orange Line Extension: An extension of the Orange Line from Midway (59th/Kilpatrick) to Ford City Shopping Center (74th/Cicero). This may or may not be done in conjunction with the aforementioned Mid-City Transitway.
  • Red Line Extension: An extension of the Red Line south from the present 95th Street terminal to the vicinity of 108th/Stony Island via the Bishop Ford Freeway.

The Strategic Regional Transit (SRT) System was a new component of the regional plan in northeastern Illinois. The SRT System was an integrated network of high-capacity commuter rail, rapid transit and bus services that were vital for mobility, congestion relief and economic development.

Possible improvements or enhancements to the SRT system included:

  • Infill stations
  • Access improvements
  • Management systems
  • Passenger amenities and information
  • Platform extensions
  • Staging area improvements
  • Transportation centers
  • Transfer and parking facilities

Like the SRA System, studies were to be conducted for each SRT route. The 2020 RTP financial strategy projected that approximately $760 million should be available for SRT System improvements through 2020. Also like the SRA System, not all the improvements proposed were possible with this level of funding.

The 2020 RTP made three major assumptions about funding increases:

  • State motor fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and related sales taxes were assumed to increase in the future as they have increased historically
  • Sales tax revenue will increase proportional to NIPC forecasts of household growth
  • Federal funds will be the same as in current programs through 2001. After 2001, the 4.3¢ per gallon gasoline tax earmarked for federal deficit reduction would be returned to the Highway Trust Fund. Finally, after 2013, the states will receive full funding from the trust fund.

If efforts were not made to realize these increases, resources would not be available for even the "constrained" list of projects included in the 2020 RTP.



Map of Priority Projects


Corridors for Further Study (CFS)

The 2020 Plan identified 20 projects for further study, 4 of which were transit (or possibly transit) projects. These facilities were not included in the final 2020 RTP evaluation and air quality conformity analysis. Any change in status would require a formal plan amendment.

  • Yellow Line North Corridor, Dempster/Skokie to Highland Park
  • Yellow Line South Corridor, Dempster/Skokie to Jefferson Park or Montrose/Blue Line
  • I-90/Northwest Corridor
  • I-88 Transit Corridor, Forest Park to Burlington Northern Santa Fe I-355 Station

However, changes in 2020 development patterns, route alignment feasibility, or a change in available funding could enable future implementation of transportation improvements in these corridors. The intention of the CFS designation was to encourage detailed, multimodal studies and environmental studies, and to preserve the option of construction through right-of-way purchases, preserving choices for future transportation investments in the face of continuing development.


The Results:

When the plan said that the majority of funding would be spent on maintaining current infrastructure, they weren't kidding! That was a chief priority of the CTA during the mid-1990s and early- to mid-2000s. A short time before the plan was published, the Green Line (Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park) closed for a massive two year overhaul, including rehabilitation or replacement of the columns and structural steel, repainting, overhauling the tracks and signals, construction of new/replacement stations and rehabilitation of others. The Cermak (Douglas) Branch of the Blue Line -- so structurally distressed that some sections are designated "slow zones" with a 15 mph speed limit -- was next in line for repair. The CTA began construction on this project in October 2001 and completed it in January 2005. The Ravenswood Line was targeted next for funding to extend platforms to expand capacity on this increasingly-popular line.

As far as the new projects go, none were implemented during this period, but some had some interesting developments. The northwest suburban mayors, especially Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, and U.S. Senator Carol Mosley-Braun (before she was defeated in the 1998 election) actively backed and promoted the extension of the Blue Line west to Schaumburg for the I-90/Northwest Corridor project. The fact that a project that was earmarked a Corridor for Further Study was catapulted to a front-runner without further study also irked some agencies, most notably CATS and the RTA. By late 2001, it was one of the CTA's favored extension projects, especially in view of Mayor Daley's O'Hare Airport expansion plan. However, the possibility of this occurring was all but derailed when a proposed 55-mile Metra route that would run from O'Hare International Airport to Joliet -- the so-called "STAR Line" -- was approved in May 2003 by the Northwest Transit Corridor Municipal Task Force, a consortium of northwest suburban mayors, and by the Regional Transportation Authority board in June 2003 as the preferred alternative for serving the congested and transit-poor Northwest Corridor along I-90 between O'Hare airport and the northwest suburbs.

The Orange Line extension to Ford City was probably one of the projects with the best chance of actually being completed. It was the line's original destination and with the line's ridership exceeding projections and continuing to climb, an extension becomes an attractive possibility. The proposal would certainly be helped if it became a politician's pet project. As of the mid-2000s, the CTA had not announced any formal plans to extend the line.

The Red Line extension has promise, but the area around IDOT's proposed terminal at 103rd and Doty is somewhat sparsely populated, stopping just a few blocks short of the edge of the popular and historic Pullman neighborhood. Completion of a proposed museum and tourist site at Pullman may help this project's chances. Various alignments are under consideration, each with its own set of pros and cons, as well as varying ridership sources and levels. Circa 2003, the CTA suggested a different alignment than IDOT's preferred Bishop Ford route. The Authority would prefer to take the extension though Roseland via the Union Pacific right-of-way, south along Stewart Avenue and southeast to 118th and Calumet in Kensington. From there, it would follow the South Shore Line right-of-way to 130th and Doty, at the Bishop Ford Freeway. No alignment had been formally decided upon as of 2004.

The Yellow Line extensions, as low-priority projects, are interesting in that they would not be particularly difficult to construct, would serve some valuable areas, but are projects that have modest support. The south connection would most likely only be completed if the Mid-City Transitway were completed (which it would invariably hook into), though the project shows promise even without it, providing a short cut for north suburbanites to O'Hare Airport (thus avoiding the obnoxiousness of having to go into the Loop and back out on the Purple-Red-Blue Lines). An extension north all the way to Highland Park would be nice, although it could only work if operated as a commuter-type operation with Park'n'Ride lots; most of that area is too dispersed for rapid transit. But a shorter extension to Old Orchard would make a great deal of sense and not be particularly expensive or difficult. Preliminary engineering studies were performed on the feasibility of the extension by the Chicago-based Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade and Douglas firm. The extension, which is backed by Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, was projected to cost more than $300 million. In November 2003, the Skokie Village Board approved a recommendation from its plan commissioners to include the Swift extension in Skokie's comprehensive plan. Van Dusen's enthusiasm is not shared by officials farther north, particularly in Northfield and Northbrook, who have asked long-term planners to shelve extension of the Swift to the county line, and Northbrook Court.

These last four projects were among those being strongly considered in early 2002 for pursuit of federal funding by CTA in the near future (see story in Articles section).

The Mid-City Transitway is projected to have the highest ridership of any of the proposed projects, making it an excellent candidate. There is also a freight railroad right-of-way (the Union Pacific and the Belt Railway of Chicago) for most of the alignment, making it easier to construct without a lot of costly and politically-difficult demolition. But it also has one of the largest price tags -- approximately $1 billion -- and thus had limited support. The Chicago Department of Transportation did some studies of the transit line, but the CTA offered limited support.

As far as the I-88 Transit Corridor form Forest Park/Blue Line to Burlington Northern Santa Fe I-355 Station (presumably referring to the Belmont BNSF station, which is close to I-355 and newly opened around the time the 2020 plan was drafted), there have not been any significant movement to initiate this project, or even a plan to thoroughly study it. Any improvements in this corridor west of I-294, along the corridor of I-88 itself, would most likely take the form of Metra BNSF and/or Pace bus improvements rather than an "L" extension.


Map of Corridors for Further Study