This region remains the center of our nation's freight system, with major rail terminals, seven interstate highways, two major airports, and the only inland waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River watershed. The Chicago region also boasts one of the oldest and largest transit systems in the country, serving two million riders on a daily basis. But the system faces challenges. To remain an asset that drives economic development, the region's transportation system requires continued, strategic investment to maintain and improve its performance.
The Chicago region is consistently ranked as one of the most congested metro areas in the U.S. In 1982, congestion here caused an annual delay of 18 hours per automobile commuter. After 30 years in which congestion increased about 5 percent annually, delay has reached 71 hours per automobile commuter. As a result, congestion costs billions of dollars annually in wasted time and fuel, decreased productivity, and pollution. While FUND 2040 cannot eliminate congestion, it can help tackle some of the worst problems and do so in a strategic, cost-effective way. Project examples could include intersection improvements, bottleneck eliminations, expansions of arterial roads, technology enhancements, and many others. While pure maintenance projects are not a good fit for the fund, many supported projects would include reconstruction and modernization.
The Stearns Road Bridge Corridor made a critically needed connection across the Fox River while also providing environmental enhancements, including 200 acres of open space, three miles of new trails, four trail bridges, and green infrastructure to handle roadway water runoff. The proposed Longmeadow Parkway would provide opportunities for similar treatments. At an estimated cost of $97 million, this new roadway would be another crossing over the Fox River in northern Kane County, improving safety, reducing congestion, and enhancing access to jobs. FUND 2040 could support projects of this type, leveraging other sources such as tolling.
Much of the region's transit infrastructure is a legacy system built in the early 20th Century, and some components date back earlier than that. Its modernization needs are significant. In early 2014, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) estimated that $13.4 billion in reinvestment is needed over the next decade to maintain the system's present condition, and eliminating the backlog of deferred investments would require $20 billion more. These very large sums are far beyond what FUND 2040 alone could accomplish, and they point to the need for dedicated transit capital funding. FUND 2040 would focus on modernization projects that provide major user benefits, like better reliability or faster service, while bringing the system toward a state of good repair. It could also support major new transit initiatives, like BRT, that significantly improve the travel experience and attract new riders to transit at a reasonable cost.
The Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) Red Line South Reconstruction Project recently rebuilt the ten-mile stretch of track between the Cermak-Chinatown and 95th Street stations. This project dramatically improved the line's condition, eliminating several miles of slow zones and reducing travel time for tens of thousands of riders. Similarly, the CTA Red and Purple Modernization Project envisions rebuilding the 100-year old elevated line between the Belmont and Linden stations on Chicago's north side and north suburbs, replacing dilapidated viaducts, building new elevated structure and track, and upgrading stations, all of which will not only reconstruct the line for today's riders but will add much needed capacity for the next few generations.
The Chicago area is our nation's freight hub, yet rail and highway bottlenecks plague goods movement in and through the region. Via the CREATE program, the federal government, State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Metra, and private railroads have formed a strong partnership to implement 70 rail projects aimed at improving freight mobility in the Chicago region. While major progress has been made, the program remains only partly funded. Truck traffic is also a major challenge, as is conflict between rail and auto traffic, which causes drivers to waste 7,800 hours each weekday waiting at rail crossings. This could be alleviated by grade separation projects. The growth of intermodal facilities has created new needs for improved access to those facilities, and dedicated corridors may be needed to support longer-term growth of freight traffic. Such projects are expected to bring substantial public benefits, including improved productivity and job creation.
FUND 2040 could support critical freight improvements, including CREATE projects like the 130th Street and Torrence Avenue Grade Separation, which will eliminate two highway-rail grade crossings on Chicago's south side, reducing delays for more than 32,000 vehicles and 24 trains daily. The project also addresses a "911 Critical Crossing" and improves access to a major industrial site. Other freight improvements such as the Taft Avenue Connector fill missing links in the transportation system. This project will construct a new four-lane road between Irving Park Road and Franklin Avenue in Franklin Park, reducing congestion and greatly improving access to local freight and manufacturing businesses, as well as the O'Hare South Airfield Cargo Area. Not all the project costs have been committed, leaving the need for additional funding to complete it.
Status of 70 CREATE projects
Bicycle and Pedestrian
The region needs to safely accommodate walking and biking, the latter of which has become an increasingly widespread means of commuting. Across metropolitan Chicago, on-street bikeways and off-street trails are needed to support shifting travel preferences. This evolving preference for active travel has major benefits for public health. Furthermore, many local governments have adopted complete streets policies that encourage consideration of pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure when making road improvements. FUND 2040 could be a means to help implement these policies.
The Cal-Sag Trail will be a 26-mile multi-use path along the Calumet River and Cal-Sag Channel between south suburban Burnham and Lemont. Currently under construction, it will open in sections over the next two years. The trail is estimated to cost $21 million, with all but $2 million already having been secured from private and public sources. The 606 Trail on Chicago's northwest side will transform three miles of unused rail line into the elevated Bloomingdale Trail and create six ground-level neighborhood parks. Construction of the 606 is also underway, with the first phase set to open in June 2015. Much of its projected $95 million cost has been secured through public and private sources, but a gap remains. FUND 2040 could help novel projects such as the 606 and the Cal-Sag Trail meet funding gaps, while also providing the flexibility to address unconventional project needs.