The importance of the railroad to Will County’s projected growth

When Will County officials look at a map of Metra commuter rail lines in the Chicago region, they see limited services for a growing region. Indeed, communities like Joliet and Plainfield are quickly growing. Will County officials came together Monday to praise a new study that will look into improving train options for this area:

Several communities have pegged developments to improved service on the Heritage Corridor. But those suburbs have been frustrated in recent years by the slow pace of adding Metra trains.

Local officials said Monday they were pinning their hopes on the Heritage Corridor to help residents get downtown now and in the future.

“I truly believe the need is there more than ever, and the consensus is we are going to see Will County in the next 20 years jump to (more than) 1 million people to become the second-most populated behind Cook,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh.

The study will help establish the line as part of the proposed high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis, Hannig said.

Several pieces of information are interesting:

1. Many might think that the railroad ceased to be important for suburbs around the time that interstates were built (late 1950s in the Chicago area). But these railroad lines still play an important role: they are a commuting option but also give suburbs a flow of people in and out of the downtown as well as a center for which development can be anchored. Along other Metra lines, numerous communities have built condos and mixed-use developments.

2. Will County will have more than 1 million residents in 20 years? This would require growth rates like the county has experienced since the 1950s: in every decade except the 1980s, the county has experienced at least 30% growth. I wonder what DuPage County, the current 2nd most populous county in the region, thinks of this projection.

3. There is some Metra service to Chicago but the options are limited. The article suggests that this limited service leads to limited use: this line is “Metra’s least-used line, with an average weekday ridership of 2,600 passengers.” (A little comparison with these numbers: I believe both Naperville train stations easily exceed this each weekday.) So if the rail service is improved, will this necessarily lead to more riders as the political leaders suggest? Why can’t the officials look at some commuting data to figure out how many Will County residents work in Chicago versus in other suburbs?

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