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Rahm Renews Effort To Build Express Rail To O'Hare

By Heather Cherone | February 9, 2017 3:35pm | Updated on February 9, 2017 5:16pm
 A rendering of one idea for an O'Hare Express Rail depot at the airport.
A rendering of one idea for an O'Hare Express Rail depot at the airport.
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City of Chicago

NEAR WEST SIDE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel recommitted Thursday to building a high-speed rail line between Downtown and O'Hare Airport in a speech touting the progress made by his efforts to improve Chicago's infrastructure.

Building an express rail line to shuttle tourists and business travelers from O'Hare to the Loop is "essential for our city's future," Emanuel said.

Promising to break ground within three years — which would be a year into his third term if he's re-elected — Emanuel hired Bob Rivkin, a former official in the Department of Transportation to provide "legal expertise" to map a plan for the project, which dates back to the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

"If London and Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Toronto can offer this service, the City of Chicago can and must also offer it," Emanuel said. "Creating faster connections between the economic engine of our central business district and the economic engine of O'Hare will pay dividends for generations to come."


A rendering of the exterior of the O'Hare Express Rail terminal at the airport. [City of Chicago]

A year ago, Emanuel announced plans to pay $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 route through the city.

No results from that effort have been announced. It is unclear how much the project would cost, or how it would be paid for.

Several aldermen and transportation experts have been critical of the push for an express train to the airport, which is already connected to the Loop by the CTA Blue Line, which is itself in the midst of a $492 million renovation.

Tickets on an express train — which would zoom from O'Hare to Downtown in 20 or 25 minutes — could cost between $25-$40, according to estimates, while a one-way fare on the Blue Line from O'Hare now costs $5.

Emanuel's speech — delivered in the hall of the Laborers District Council on the Near West Side decorated with massive pictures of the mayor celebrating a wide variety of projects across the city — was designed to tout the progress he promised in two speeches in 2012, just months after he took office.

[DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

That effort — dubbed Building A New Chicago — created 60,000 jobs in six years, Emanuel said. He promised to create another 40,000 infrastructure jobs by 2020.

"We are filling holes in the fabric of the city that were empty for too long," said Emanuel, who is expected to run for a third term as Chicago mayor in 2019.

The mayor said the accomplishments of the Building a New Chicago Initiative included:

• Two new east-west runways at O’Hare

• More than 40 CTA stations renovated or rebuilt

• 108 miles of protected or widened bike lanes

• More than 1,600 miles of arterial and residential streets and alleys repaved

• More than 500 miles of century-old water mains replaced

• 325 neighborhood parks and playgrounds renovated.

Earlier Thursday, Emanuel announced plans for a new CTA Green Line station near the United Center on the Near West Side Thursday morning.

However, the centerpiece of Emanuel's 2012 plan — the $1.7 billion Chicago Infrastructure Trust that the mayor announced with great fanfare with President Bill Clinton at his side — merited only a brief mention for launching an effort in December to replace 270,000 streetlights with LED lights set to start this spring.

In 2012, Emanuel likened the task of the infrastructure trust — designed to match public funds with private investment — to the challenge of rebuilding the city after the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.

Much of the 38-minute speech was a laundry list of accomplishments in Emanuel's oft-touted effort to establish a "21st century foundation" to allow a "21st century economy" to flourish in Chicago, which the mayor said he was determined to position at the heart of the "global economy."

Emanuel painted a picture of a thriving Chicago, where the population was increasing and companies were clamoring to make their new home.

"This is truly a city that works," Emanuel said, referencing Mayor Richard J. Daley's famous description of his hometown. "We know it is not because of my warm and fuzzy personality."

That portrait that could not be more different than the one portrayed by President Donald Trump, who twice this week spoke of Chicago as a violence-torn city at the brink of a crisis.

In addition to the O'Hare express train, Emanuel vowed to push for federal help with the renovation of Union Station and the extension of the Red Line south to 130th Street.

In fact, the majority of Emanuel's speech celebrated what he said was the success of the largest capital improvement effort in the history of the Chicago Transit Authority — which was largely financed by federal funds sent to Chicago by the administration of President Barack Obama.

"This work has been a down payment on the work ahead of us," Emanuel said.


Mayor Rahm Emanuel recommitted Thursday to building a high-speed rail line between Downtown and O'Hare Airport in a speech touting the progress made by his efforts to improve Chicago's infrastructure. {DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]