CITY HALL — Reviving a pie-in-the-sky concept for a high-speed rail line between Downtown and O'Hare International Airport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is paying $2 million to a local consulting firm for design proposals.
The idea dates back to at least Mayor Richard M. Daley, who spent $250 million on a so-called super station under Block 37 Downtown to establish at least one end of the express line. But whatever was ultimately done there has not gone to advance express CTA service.
Emanuel's new expenditure throws open the doors to entirely new concepts. He's paying $2 million to the Parsons Brinckerhoff design firm to come up with ideas for where Downtown and O'Hare stations might be located and the best and quickest routes between the two, as well as its overall cost and viability, both for construction and future maintenance.
Daley's idea was for the express trains to run along the Blue Line course, perhaps with strategically placed sidetracks for locals, or even on separate rails above those tracks. But Emanuel is looking for ideas outside that box.
Regardless, at least one alderman was dubious.
"No matter what comes out the other end, taxpayers are gonna have to backstop it somehow," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
Although the Emanuel administration suggests it's meant to keep O'Hare competitive with other airports globally, Waguespack pointed out it hasn't been designated a top priority by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and it isn't a top priority for city residents.
"When you look at our transportation priorities, I don't think that makes it to the top," Waguespack said. He granted that the jet-set and business travelers on expense accounts might pay the estimated $25-$40 for an express to or from O'Hare, "but the question is, how many? Is it feasible to make this thing operate?"
Proponents have suggested that it would no doubt receive federal transportation funds, but Waguespack added, "People forget that we're those people, too," paying those federal taxes.
The Emanuel administration touted the proposal as an addition to the $1.3 billion recently committed to keep O'Hare competitive, and Waguespack wondered if that weren't investment enough to maintain the airport's status as one of the best and busiest in the world.
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