Chicago Union Station stakeholders enter into Emerging Projects Agreement with USDOT

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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USDOT’s Build America Bureau and the city of Chicago are entering an Emerging Projects Agreement that is expected to yield improvements to the station.

Plans to modernize Chicago’s Union Station will move forward following the announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) new Build America Bureau and the city of Chicago are entering an Emerging Projects Agreement (EmPA).  

The agreement will allow Chicago to work with USDOT officials toward the goal of acquiring as much as $1 billion in federal funding to revitalize the station.

“Today marks a major step forward both in the future of Union Station and in the economic life of our city,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “This modernization effort will improve the experience for everyone who travels through Union Station and tap the potential the station has to serve as an anchor for further economic development of the West Loop and surrounding neighborhoods. I want to thank [U.S. Transportation] Secretary [Anthony] Foxx and the Build America Bureau for acknowledging the significance of this project and for all of our partners who have been working for the past several years to help get us to this point today.”

Representatives say the EmPA will enable USDOT to provide better technical assistance for large-scale projects seeking low-cost federal credit through the Build America Bureau’s programs, including Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Program and the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

“The Build America Bureau makes it easier for big multimodal projects like Chicago’s Union Station to move forward. This project will serve as a vital hub for rail and transit and connect the entire region,” said Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. “I’m confident that the Bureau will continue to be a great partner for Chicago and cities across the country to build seamless, modern transportation networks in the years ahead.”

The EmPA announcement comes as Chicago and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) are working with Amtrak, Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority and the Illinois Department of Transportation to design improvements to passenger capacity through renovated and expanded concourses and platforms. Representatives say current plans also reference improvements to service, safety, environmental concerns, accessibility and mobility issues surrounding the station.

“This is another milestone in all of our efforts to improve Union Station to make it a world-class transportation facility for a world-class city,” said Ray Lang, Amtrak senior director, national state relations. “All of this is happening because all of us are working together as partners.”

Amtrak says it is in the final stages of evaluating proposals for a master developer to lead the station’s redevelopment and that of nearby Amtrak-owned property and air rights.

Redevelopment plans for the station outline a public-private partnership to facilitate transportation and transit-focused improvements surrounding Union Station.

The project’s three primary goals are:

  • Expand and renovate the station to serve as an architecturally significant transportation terminal
  • To allow a growing number of customers to use the station’s facilities safely and efficiently
  • Create a vibrant commercial center and civic asset

Potential improvements to be funded through the agreement include:

  • Renovation of the Canal Street Union Station Lobby
  • Rehabilitation of the Great Hall skylight and dome structure
  • Renovation and expansion of the Adams Street and Jackson Street entrances
  • Expansion of the Union Station Concourse
  • Widening of platforms
  • Improved accessibility throughout the station, including installation of an elevator at the Canal Street Headhouse
  • Reconstruction of the Canal Street and Harrison Street viaducts
  • Construction of pedestrian tunnels connecting Union Station to Metra’s Ogilvie Station and to the CTA Blue Line stop at Clinton Street

“Metra is excited by this important step in the redevelopment of Chicago Union Station,” said Don Orseno, Metra’s executive director and CEO. “This Emerging Project Agreement puts the redevelopment of the station in position for financing opportunities that could allow the work to proceed more quickly and at a lower cost. These improvements will provide relief to the 55,000 Metra riders who use Union Station each weekday and allow the station to accommodate growth in the future.”

Representatives say Union Station sees more than 300 trains per weekday transporting about 120,000 passengers.

“I understand the critical nature of work on Union Station as both RTA Chairman and as a rider,” said RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard. “I take Metra in and out of Union Station daily so I understand its importance as a key transit site for regional riders. We are pleased this agreement will help restore this iconic building to its former glory and to assure the safety and comfort of our customers and tourists. Chicago is the nation’s transportation center and Union Station is a vital, major and symbolic piece of America’s infrastructure.”

Union Station handles more than 30 regional trains sponsored by state transportation departments, and, in addition to Amtrak service, Metra operates six commuter rail routes during 271 weekdays from the Station.