Friday, August 21, 2009

Chicago $15.6-billion plan includes West Loop transit hub

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A guide for downtown growth through 2020 that calls for $15.6 billion in public works was endorsed by the Chicago Plan Commission, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The Chicago Central Area Action Plan would allocate most of the spending for transportation projects. The most expensive would be a $6-billion West Loop transit hub beneath Clinton Street with a multilevel connection between Metra and CTA service.

 

Other big-ticket items include $1.5 billion for CTA express train service to the airports and $500 million for a landscaped roof over the Kennedy Expressway from Monroe to Washington, around which new office buildings could be added.

More broadly, the plan sketches how the city should look if forecasts for growth hold true. It assigns importance to green space and waterfront access but emphasizes roadway and transit changes to speed the movement of people.

It recommends four new CTA L stations near downtown and two pedestrian bridges over the Chicago River, one in the West Loop and the other in Streeterville. The plan's text and graphics are posted on the Web site of the city's Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning.

Each project will require its own review, said downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (43rd), who supports the plan. "It helps guide future discussions about downtown development. It doesn't dictate them," he said.

The commission's unanimous vote is the final action and makes the document official city policy. No City Council action is required because no law was made. While the document includes cost estimates and plans for raising the money, it offers no funding guarantee. Individual projects may have to be deferred for years or may never happen.

The plan was aired in front of downtown area civic groups in recent months and drew support.

The report said the projects are attainable even amid fiscal austerity if the city can raise money from tax-increment financing, which diverts property taxes from regular government expenses, or obtain federal and state aid. It acknowledged that the aid might be tied to a 2016 Summer Olympics but said the projects are possible even if the city's application is rejected.

The authors are principally officials with city planning agencies or consultants working for them. Benet Haller, director of urban design for the city's Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning, said the proposed expenses aren't out of line with recent budgets for capital projects.

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