Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chicago's $200 (now $440) million transit station to nowhere

I have read about new bridges that went to nowhere because funding was obtained for the bridge, but not for new roads to connect the bridge to existing roads. Hopefully, the needed roads got built and the bridges became useful. But this is the first time I have read about a new train (subway) station that has no trains. Furthermore, it is a big station. It is part of the Block 37 fiasco. I have mentioned that our family had the Christmas tradition of eating in the Walnut Room of Marshal Fields when our girls were young. One year we had a table next to a window that overlooked State Street. It struck me as odd that there was a skating rink on the other side of State Street. And that was about all there was. Looking at a 1999 historical aerial, you can see a rectangle with rounded corners. That was the rink. In 2002 you see a vacant block except for a little buidling along the middle of Dearborn Street. In 2005 it still looks empty. In 2007 you finally see some buildings again. I haven't done serious research about Block 37 because I'm sure it would be depressing. My understanding is the city bought the land and tore down the buildings with the expectation that a developer would do great things with the land. But it turned out to be like the old post office --- one developer after another would draw some nice looking pictures of what they planned to build, but nothing got built. As part of the city's vision to build a great new block, they built the Block 37 superstation under the block that ran the full diaganol of the block from Randolf and Dearborn southeast to State and Washington.

Crain's Chicago Business
It was to connect with the Blue Line at the Dearborn Street corner and the Red Line at the State Street corner. If I understand the Crain article, they were also planning to lay tracks between the two lines to offer express service using their two most popular lines. They got the 28-foot high hole dug under Block 37 before the recession of 2008 hit. Another $150 million is needed to finish the station. Maybe they could spiff it up a bit and use it as an "event space" for large weddings and corporate meetings. Perhaps add some folding walls so they could rent multiple rooms of variable size. Or maybe a rich person could buy it and build a model train layout. With that much space one could do several levels of G-scale tracks. If I understand the financing correctly, no federal tax dollars were wasted building this concrete lined hole in the ground.

Update: Today's [20171130] Chicago Tribune on Page 6 has the headline "Mayor revives O'Hare rail plan at Daley's mothballed station."
Satellite
Block 37 itself has finally been developed. He held his press conference in the "mothballed white elephant CTA superstation." He announced that his administration had sent out "request for qualifications" to add CTA express service to O'Hare. But only one of the potential routes would use the superstation as its endpoint and use the Blue Line route. He wants construction to start within three years on a route that could make the trip under 20 minutes and have a reliable frequency of at least every 15 minutes during peak hours. The fares would have a premium rate, but less than a taxi or ride share. Other cities charge $30 for a comparable service, but it is expected that most riders would continue to use the slower Blue Line than pay that much of a premium. No taxpayer money is to be used on the route itself. But it would probably be used for new stations at each end of the line. And no taxpayer money is to be used for the operation and maintenance of the new service.

Chicago taps Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build high-speed transit tunnels that would tie Loop with O'Hare (source)
The station is back in the news because the Mayor and Musk think they can do a 12-min ride with tunnels from this station to O'Hare. (source)

The news conference officially announcing the tunnel plan was held in the Block 37 hole. (source)



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