The case for connecting Chicago’s airports with a rail line

The Active Transportation Alliance argues for a rail line connecting O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport:

Imagine if you could get from Midway to O’Hare in less than 40 minutes on public transit.

Currently, that trip takes well over an hour and involves transferring from the Orange to the Blue Line in the Loop before coming all the way back west towards O’Hare. Building the Airport Connector Express, one of 10 expansion projects in our Transit Future vision, could cut the travel time between Chicago’s two airports in half…

The benefit to business travelers and tourists looking to transfer flights is the most obvious benefit of the project, but definitely not the only one. Even more importantly, the line would connect communities across western Cook County to the two major job centers, greatly boosting job access and opportunities for many working class families. It could also reduce traffic congestion on highways and major arterial streets as more people choose to ride transit as it becomes a more convenient option…

These communities and many others like them are not well served by the current hub-and-spoke model of the region’s transit system. Some are connected to downtown by suburban Metra service but we know not all jobs are located downtown.

This should have happened years ago as these are two of the busiest airports in the United States. I can imagine three reasons why it has not happened:

1. Money. Who is going to pay for it? What would the revenues be from passengers using it? However, I don’t think this is the primary reason. Given the projections of economic growth that are sometimes trotted out for other projects, I bet this could be justified (particularly if you account for reduced traffic).

2. For various reasons, the Chicago area has been slow to build mass transit lines to connect the spokes of the hub-and-spoke train model that arose first with railroads in the mid-1800s and then was reinforced with the CTA lines that converge in the Loop. The mass transit in the region suggests people primarily want to head downtown even as job centers have developed throughout the region including Oak Brook, Naperville, Schaumburg, and Northbrook. The highways are a little better; the Tri-State Tollway was one of the first highways to open and I-355 became the next ring out. However, I-355 doesn’t go all the way around (even its extension was limited and covers an area that was not yet very dense) and the proposed Fox Valley Expressway was never constructed.

3. Perhaps there are some issues to work out across these suburban communities. The majority of this proposed track would be outside Chicago city limits and cooperation from nearby suburbs is needed. But, suburbs don’t always agree on projects like these that could bring changes.

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