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Government Shutdown Kink in Ashland Express Bus Plan

By Mike Brockway | October 15, 2013 4:01pm
 A sign opposing the Ashland BRT sits in the median on Ashland Avenue near Cortland.
A sign opposing the Ashland BRT sits in the median on Ashland Avenue near Cortland.
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The Expired Meter.com

DOWNTOWN — The federal government shutdown is slowing down the process for the city in its plan to bring bus rapid transit to Ashland Avenue, according to the CTA.

CTA officials had planned to release a draft environmental assessment report on the proposed special express buses on Ashland in October and then initiate another round of public meetings to gather comments.

But this draft environmental assessment has yet to be reviewed by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration — a process it must go through before it can be released to the public.

"Anytime we would request any form of federal funding there are studies we must do," CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said. The transit administration "reviews all our studies for which we require federal dollars. They review the work we've done in the study."

But the environmental assessment is in limbo, stuck due to the federal shutdown and the political impasse in Washington, D.C.

Lukidis says no one at the CTA expected a delay in the review of the 200 to 300 page report, which contains ridership data, traffic counts on Ashland along the proposed initial route, and how proposed changes to Ashland will affect both traffic and bus ridership.

The Ashland plan calls for express CTA buses running in the center of Ashland from 31st Street to Cortland Avenue in its first phase, with the route ultimately stretching to Irving Park Road.

With stops every half mile, passengers loading and unloading from the center median, and traffic signal prioritization (which would extend green lights for the buses), the express plan would increasing commuting speeds for bus riders along the route.

The draft assessment will address the impact of removing a lane of traffic in each direction, prohibiting most left turns and retaining local bus service.

The federal government was "in the process of reviewing it when this happened," Lukidis said. "No one foresaw a government shutdown. We're sort of on hold like other agencies in this situation."

Lukidis is optimistic that the shutdown won't delay the process too long.

"I don't know how much the shutdown will affect us," said Lukidis. "We may still be able to follow with the timeline. I'm not sure where they are in [federal] review process. Hopefully things get resolved quickly."

Once the draft assessment does get released, the CTA will seek public comments for the plan at public meetings and via the CTA's Ashland project website.