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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Elgin, Ill., group studying future of transportation

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Continuing talks on making the area more environmentally friendly focused Tuesday night on expanding the use of trains, buses and bicycles countywide, according to the Elgin Courier News, The Elgin, Ill., Community Network hosted a discussion at Gail Borden Public Library that looked at the future of transportation in the area. Among those attending were representatives from Metra, Kane County Division of Transportation and Schaumburg-based engineering firm TranSystems, the company contracted to draft the city's Bikeway Master Plan.

Metra New Starts Project Leader David Kralik presented residents with the commuter train system's plans to expand service throughout the suburbs, including the creation of the country's first suburb-to-suburb line that would connect Joliet to O'Hare International Airport. He said increased growth in the suburbs over the past several years made it necessary to re-think the concept of commuter travel throughout the region.

"We're seeing a lot more job growth in the suburbs," Kralik said. "And we need a better system in order to be able to connect where people are at in the suburbs and where they live to the jobs that they want to go to in the suburbs."

Called the Suburban Transit Access Route, or STAR Line, the 55-mile route would go through Plainfield, Naperville and Aurora and through Hoffman Estates at the sprawling Prairie Stone commercial park, running along 36 miles of railroad tracks -- the former Elgin, Joliet and Eastern tracks now owned by Canadian National Railway.

Other proposed expansion plans would include extending Metra's Union Pacific Northwest Line to provide service to eastern McHenry County and western Lake County; increasing service on the Union Pacific West Line that connects Chicago to Elburn; and the proposed creation of a new Southeast Service line to serve the southeast suburbs. Still in the conceptual stages, Kralik said, it could be eight to 10 years before the either of the two new lines are in service.

Increased train service was an option that Kane County Deputy Director of Transportation Steven Coffinbargar said would have to be examined to address the likely traffic congestion that will come if the county's population grows as projected from 404,000 to more than 710,000 by 2030.

He said even if road improvements totaling an estimated $3.3 billion are done, that still would fall far short of addressing the problem.

"Traffic congestion is something we have to think about differently," Coffinbargar said. "We can't build our way out of traffic congestion, so we need to look at other alternatives to reduce traffic congestion."

Suggested alternatives would implement road improvements along major roads such as Route 38 and Randall Road to make Pace buses more accessible. The goal would be to reduce the presence of motor vehicles on the road, a concept that has been behind Elgin's plans since 2007 to establish a citywide network of bike routes.

TranSystems Vice President Brian Fairwood provided updates on the progress of the Bikeway Master Plan, approved in March 2008, that would establish a grid system to place a bike route approximately every four blocks or half-mile. So far, he said, two of the four routes proposed have been funded up to 80 percent through federal grants, with both expected to be completed by 2013.

The meeting was part of a the city's Sustainable City Master Plan -- a guideline to make Elgin a more environmentally friendly community, with recommendations for infrastructure improvements, community development and changes to current zoning laws and procedures from a number of subcommittees covering each major topic that touches on sustainability.

ECN vice president Bill Werst said there is no time frame for when the transportation committee would submit its findings, but rather its purpose is to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the city to address issues as they become present.

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