Illinois Tollway, Canadian Pacific Railroad fighting over railyard land

Both railroads and tollways are important in the Chicago region so which should get their way when they both want the same land?

The Tollway has already built part of I-390 with the intention of extending it east to O’Hare. A new tollway would meet I-390 and connect it north to I-90 and south to the Tri-State Tollway along the airport’s western border. The project is expected to cost about $3.5 billion…

In March 2014, Canadian Pacific asked for $114 million for land acquisition and improvements to its Bensenville yard. The Tollway wants to use about 36 acres of the yard for the highway project. But the Tollway said CP restricted Tollway access to the yard, interfering with its ability to study the area to respond to the offer.

Schillerstrom said that the Tollway presented plans that addressed the railroad’s operational and land acquisition worries in November 2015, but CP ended discussions and since then has not been willing to discuss anything…

“With $140 million in federal dollars already invested in the project, Sen. Durbin is concerned about Canadian Pacific’s newfound unwillingness to work with the Tollway and other stakeholders,” Marter said. “After years of working toward a mutually beneficial solution, the railroad’s about-face is troubling.”

I’m a little surprised the state let this go so long and/or they didn’t wrap this piece of the puzzle up before they put themselves between a rock and a hard place. I imagine the public might rally around the cause of the tollway here – the road could help a number of drivers – but CP is correct about the level of railroad gridlock in the Chicago region. Say more about this particular railyard here; the picture at the top highlights the size of the facility.

Might this call for some sort of deal where the land in this railyard is traded for some other land or access elsewhere in the region? One solution to railroad congestion is to funnel more traffic around the edges of the region.

 

The unusual development of Rosemont, Illinois

Rosemont is a different kind of suburb and the Daily Herald sums up its unique growth over 60 years:

Before it was an entertainment and business mecca of the suburbs, Rosemont was an oft-flooded swampy area with pothole-ridden, unpaved roads, no streetlights and taverns that became hangouts for the mob…

Today, the 2.5-square-mile town on the edge of O’Hare International Airport has 4,200 residents — many of whom live in a close-knit gated community and are employed by the village. But what drives Rosemont’s economy is its estimated 100,000 visitors a day, drawn to the town’s 14 hotels, a shopping mall, offices and village-owned venues including a stadium, theater, convention center and entertainment district…

Almost from the beginning, Rosemont linked itself to O’Hare, which was on its way to becoming the world’s busiest airport. As other suburban towns fought airplane noise and expansion plans, Stephens was feeding off it…

In 1958, Stephens brokered a deal with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley for access to Chicago water in exchange for a 162-foot-wide strip of Foster Avenue that would allow the city to connect to O’Hare. Rosemont got the right to 4 million gallons of water per day at Chicago rates.

Three features strike me as consequential in this story: (1) geographic proximity to O’Hare Airport; (2) a unique vision from the Stephens family who has largely been able to guide the community; and (3) the success the suburb has had in attracting businesses and visitors. Many suburbs would like to have some of the features that Rosemont has today – particularly the regular visitors who bring tax dollars into the local coffers – yet all of those same features – a convention center, an arena, proximity to O’Hare, years of seeking out a casino – would not fit the character of many communities nor would they necessarily all come together.

In other words, a suburb like this is rare as not every suburban community can develop an entertainment base and have it pay off. (Unfortunately, this article doesn’t delve much into the suburb’s finances. How much debt is there? What is the local tax rate? What happens if one of these major centers or projects crashes?) The lesson to be learned here may be that this is a rare suburb in the Chicago region and it cannot be easily emulated.

What is the economic benefit of O’Hare Airport to the Chicago region?

Noise complaints may be up but local officials say O’Hare Airport has a big economic impact:

Chicago estimates O’Hare contributes more than $38 billion to the economy of the six counties and sustains about 450,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Airport expansion could generate an extra $18 billion and create 195,000 new jobs, the city projects.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a speech to the City Club in June, attributed recent economic successes to O’Hare and Midway International Airport. “Out of the 10 major metropolitan areas (in the U.S.) last year, Chicagoland had 12,000 businesses created,” Emanuel said. “That’s No. 2 in the United States.”

I’m guessing these statistics won’t quiet the critics of the new noise patterns yet it should remind the region’s residents how an airport might indirectly help them all beyond providing easier and cheaper access to points around the globe.

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.

O’Hare Airport now officially world’s busiest airport again

Occasionally status anxious Chicago can breathe a little easier: O’Hare was just certified the world’s busiest airport.

While 2014 traffic at O’Hare was down by 0.2 percent, it lost less traffic than the Atlanta airport, where traffic declined by 4.7 percent, according to new FAA data. O’Hare had 881,933 arrivals and departures; Atlanta had 868,359.

But the Atlanta airport is likely to retain the title of busiest airport for passenger traffic.

City officials have said international passenger volume have helped O’Hare totals. In the last 18 months, O’Hare and Midway airports added six new international airlines and dozens of destinations, according to the city.

O’Hare regains bragging rights to the title it had mostly owned since the dawn of the Jet Age, when it surpassed the number of flights at Midway Airport, which had been the leader.

As a transportation center, this looks good for Chicago. Yet, there are two more negative signs: Atlanta may still have more passengers (which number matters more?) and flights were down (Which may have more to do with airlines consolidating as well as trying to cut costs by filling existing flights). Additionally, the lead over Atlanta isn’t that big. I’m guessing this means the competition will continue for years to come and I am curious to know if Chicago and/or O’Hare have some plans in the works to keep their regained lead.

A reporter spends the night under O’Hare’s new air traffic patterns – and doesn’t report much

After recently learning of an uptick in complaints regarding airplane noise around O’Hare Airport, one reporter spends the night in an affected neighborhood:

On the horizon are five blinking lights, all destined for the runway that parallels Thorndale Avenue, which now handles almost half of overnight arrivals. A little south, coming in toward the Lawrence Avenue runway, are two more jets. As they converge overhead, it looks as if the Northwest Side were in the midst of an alien invasion.

At one point, the planes coming in pass overhead at the same time, and the whines of the engines bounce off each other in stereo. JP launches the noise monitor app on his phone and registers 86 decibels, which, according to the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, is roughly equal to the sound of a screaming child. The FAA claims the metric for “significant” jet noise—meaning the amount at which homeowners can be eligible for soundproofing subsidies—is a day-night sound level average of 65 decibels. But only those residences within the FAA’s noise contour map (Sauganash Woods and most other Northwest Side neighborhoods are not) qualify for the soundproofing…

Evening settles in, and JP and I sit in his family room to watch the Bears-Packers game. Every once in a while, a plane whizzes by, which actually provides a welcome distraction from the historic pummeling the Packers are giving the Bears. After the game, my hosts head to bed, and I try to get some sleep on the couch.

A few minutes later, around 11, the jets start rumbling by again, often in 30-second intervals. Using radar and tracking apps on my iPhone, I watch the dots as they approach: At 11:55, a Boeing 747 Yangtze River Express from Shanghai blows in at 1,300 feet. At 11:56, an Airbus from Phoenix roars over the house. The last plane I see on the screen before dozing off at 12:30 a.m. is a Cessna coming in from Green Bay. (Jay Cutler’s private jet?)

The general theme of the report is that some people’s lives are affected by these changes at O’Hare. At most, it suggests at least a few families, businesses, and communities are affected. But, we don’t hear if life is unbearable. We don’t hear if everyone in these neighborhoods and communities feels the same way. We don’t get a broader view from elsewhere in the region. We get a narrow slice of life with an uncertain conclusion.

Articles like these tend to draw my sociological attention because this one addresses (a) an area experiencing some significant change, which leads to differing reactions from people and (b) the issues at O’Hare represent an opportunity to discuss metropolitan-wide issues. Certainly, other areas in the country have similar issues, whether it is from airport noise or an undesirable facility nearby or because the powers that be decided to change things for the good of the majority. This particular case at O’Hare could provide an interesting comparison to see exactly how this balance between individuals, communities, and the region plays out. Yet, most of the media coverage I’ve seen so far tends to focus on individual complaints or relatively small communities.

When a few people generate most of the complaints about a public nuisance

The newest runway at O’Hare Airport has generated more noise complaints than ever. However, a good portion of the complaints come from a small number of people.

She now ranks among the area’s most prolific complainers and is one of 11 people responsible for 44 percent of the noise complaints leveled in August, according to the city’s Department of Aviation.

The city, which operates the airport, pokes at her serial reporting in its monthly report by isolating the number of complaints from a single address in various towns. It’s a move meant to downplay the significant surge in noise complaints since the airport’s fourth east-west runway opened last fall, but it only seems to energize Morong…

Chicago tallied 138,106 complaints during the first eight months of the year, according to the Department of Aviation. That figure surpassed the total number of noise complaints from 2007 to 2013.

The city, however, literally puts an asterisk next to this year’s numbers in monthly reports and notes that a few addresses are responsible for thousands of complaints. The August report, for example, states that 11 addresses were responsible for more than 13,000 complaints during that 31-day period…

But even excluding the serial reporters, the city still logged about 16,000 complaints in August, about eight times the number it received in August 2013.

There are two trends going on here:

1. The overall number of complaints is still up, even without the more serial complainers. This could mean several things: there are more people now affected by noise, a wider range of people are complaining, and/or this system of filing complaints online has caught on.

2. A lot of the complaints are generated by outliers, including the main woman in the story who peaked one day at 600 complaints. It is interesting that the City of Chicago has taken to pointing this out, probably in an attempt to

This is not an easy issue to solve. The runway issues and O’Hare’s path to being the world’s busiest airport again mean that there is more flight traffic and more noise. This is not desirable for some residents who feel like they are not heard. Yet, it is probably good for the whole region as Chicago tries to build on its transportation advantages. What might the residents accept as “being heard”? Changing whole traffic patterns or efforts at limiting the sound? Balancing local and regional interests is often very difficult but I don’t see how this is going to get much better for the residents.