All aboard the fantasy express to O'Hare Airport

Imagine zooming 125 m.p.h underground from downtown to O’Hare Airport on a new express train and getting there in plenty of time of find out your flight has been delayed–again.

Imagine making that trip in a promised 20 minutes from O’Hare to downtown after it took your flight 20 minutes to get to the terminal gate after landing at the “improved” O’Hare.

The public relations campaign to persuade you that billions of dollars must be spent to justify the

A couple of travelers prepare to board a CTA train at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday, May 28, 2015. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune) (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

A couple of travelers prepare to board a CTA train at O’Hare International Airport on Thursday, May 28, 2015. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune) (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

latest, outrageously expensive and pie-in-the-sky expansion of O’Hare Airport is in jet propulsion mode.  With great frequency we’re being regaled with plans to build a state-of-the-art express train; potential builders have been narrowed down to two, including  electric-car pioneer Elon Musk who think that he can use  underground “hyperloop” technology to obtain those impressive speeds. Op-eds, editorials and columns are showing up to pitch the wondrous idea.

Joe Cahill in Crain’s Chicago Business wrote of the project’s importance referencing the latest O’Hare expansion boondoggle put forward by Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “What if Chicago spent $8.5 billion on shiny new terminals at O’Hare International Airport, but nobody could get there?” Good question. To borrow from that thought, “What if Chicago spent $350 million on a fancy express train underground terminal in the Loop and it sits there unused?”  I’m referring of course to the Blue Line station that former Mayor Richard M. Daley created under the buildings on Block 37 facing State St. It was non-starter from the beginning because no one can figure out how to run express trains on the two-track line to O’Hare without being slowed down by local trains. 

There is an alternative: running express trains on existing Metra tracks between Union Station and an O’Hare station that’s already there. But that’s unacceptable because it doesn’t involve eye-bulging spending for the usual patronage purposes.

Of course, there was an even better solution: A South Suburban airport that aviation experts long ago said that would be a better way to expand the Chicago region’s aviation capacity without the costly pipe dream of expanding O’Hare. Metra could run express trains on its electric line tracks that already reach close to the site..

But that’s not in the cards either because Daley, abetted by the local power structure (corporate, union, civic and media), jumped aboard the Kill-the-South-Suburban-Airport express with a glassy-eyed dream of keeping all the goodies of airport construction in the city.

For different reasons, a couple of lonely voices have raised doubts about the latest project. Janet Smith, professor of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and UIC Urban Planning and Policy assistant professor, Kate Lowe, warned against it (here).

By now, the reasoning is that after we’ve gone way over the budgeted $6.6 billion for the runway expansion, we can’t do anything but keep throwing money at an expansion plan that was ill-conceived from the start.

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812



Leave a comment