Comments? Click here.

Build regionally significant projects

Build regionally significant projects

Regionally significant projects (RSPs) are capital investments in the region’s expressways, transit system, and arterials with impacts and benefits that are large enough to warrant additional discussion through the regional planning process. These include large reconstruction projects and additions to the system. The federal government requires regional planning agencies to demonstrate fiscal constraint by showing that sufficient resources will be available to construct projects recommended in the plan.

In keeping with the ON TO 2050 principles as well as the recommendations of this Mobility chapter, the plan includes a relatively small number of constrained regionally significant projects as priorities and recommends further study of others that are classified as "unconstrained." Only constrained projects are eligible to receive federal transportation funds and obtain certain federal approvals. These constrained projects can help the region meet today’s needs, adapt to changing mobility patterns for goods and people, and support economic success overall. The plan focuses particularly on projects that reconstruct or enhance the existing network, with few expansion projects. Implementation of many of these projects will require action not only on the projects themselves, but on implementing additional local, regional, state, and federal transportation revenues. If current revenues and trends remain the same, the region will have fewer resources for RSPs.

To identify constrained RSPs, CMAP solicited candidate projects from partner agencies as well as from the public, then undertook an extensive evaluation of the benefits of the projects, which is documented in the Draft ON TO 2050 Regionally Significant Projects Benefits Report. Candidate projects meet one of the following thresholds:

  1. Costs at least $100 million and either (a) changes capacity on the National Highway System or is a new expressway or principal arterial, or (b) changes capacity on transit services with some separate rights of way or shared right of way where transit has priority over other traffic
  2. Costs at least $250 million and improves the state of good repair for a particular highway or transit facility

Evaluation of each project focused on the current need, the modeled benefit with 2050 population and employment, and the degree to which the project fits with ON TO 2050 planning priorities. See the Draft ON TO 2050 Regionally Significant Projects Benefits Report for more details about methodology.

For expressway and arterial projects, current need includes whether a project addresses a significant congestion, safety, or reliability problem occurring today. This includes whether the roadway is a near-term priority for pavement reconstruction or bridge replacement, although over the long-term time frame of the plan, many assets will deteriorate to the point of requiring replacement. For transit projects, assessment of current need includes the degree to which a project will improve current state of repair or help relieve a capacity constraint, which is analogous to congestion on the highway system. See the strategies Invest in and protect transit’s core strengths, Continue to plan for system modernization while making progress toward state of good repair, and Continue to update roadway designs to reduce speeding and crashes for related policy actions.

[GRAPHIC TO COME: Map showing roadway needs.]

[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show capacity constraints on CTA rail and Metra (adapted from the ON TO 2050 Transit Trends snapshot report).]

The evaluation of 2050 performance is based on socioeconomic forecasts and travel demand modeling that estimates which projects will have the highest future benefits relative to cost. (See Draft ON TO 2050 Socioeconomic Forecast Appendix and Draft ON TO 2050 Travel Demand Documentation) CMAP evaluated how much each expressway project improved job accessibility, commute times, and crash rates. Expressway projects were also evaluated for their impact on regional congestion, a federal performance measure and ON TO 2050 indicator. The RTA evaluated transit projects for their impact on regional transit ridership, an ON TO 2050 indicator, and changes in job access.

The planning priorities assessment connects the RSP evaluation to the three overarching principles of ON TO 2050. Given the important role of inclusive growth in ON TO 2050, the evaluation looks closely at how much a project improves access for EDAs, and particularly how it connects EDAs to jobs in industries with low barriers to entry and potential for upward mobility. (See recommendation Leverage the transportation network to promote inclusive growth for related strategies). Part of resilience is protecting against injury to the natural systems that sustain the region, so the evaluation examines a project's potential environmental impacts caused by construction, increased traffic volumes, and whether the project supports infill development or encourages additional development in high quality natural areas. The principle of prioritized investment informs the entire project evaluation process, but the evaluation also takes into consideration how each project affects the region’s economy.

[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will explain economic benefits of transportation investment.]                   

The constrained RSPs total $72.7 billion in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars, which takes into account incremental operating costs ($3.7 billion) and capital costs ($18.7 billion for new capacity and $50.3 billion for reconstruction elements) as well as anticipated cost inflation by the time the project is constructed and begins operation. Except for highway or transit extensions, most projects include reconstruction elements. The cost of fixing existing infrastructure is accounted for separately in the Draft ON TO 2050 Financial Plan for Transportation Appendix, and only the cost associated with new capacity requires identifying additional available resources to meet fiscal constraint. Approximately 60 percent of the new capacity cost is for transit projects and 40 percent for highway improvements.

ON TO 2050 acknowledges that tolling will be needed to defray the costs of rebuilding the expressway system and that value capture will be required to fund transit needs. The plan assumes that tolling on all lanes would be implemented following most planned reconstruction projects, generating $14.6 billion in bond proceeds to offset project costs. Transit projects can also generate revenue to offset their costs. Recently authorized state legislation allows Transit Facility Improvement Areas in which a form of value capture can be used to fund transit capital investments. Four areas defined in statute that benefit from rail service can have part of their property tax revenues directed to repay bonds issued to pay for capital costs. ON TO 2050 includes $2.97 billion in bond proceeds from value capture to offset transit project costs. For more formation about revenue, see the recommendation Fully fund the region’s transportation system.

Important project types that do not meet the RSP threshold

Some types of projects do not meet the cost threshold for RSPs, but they are nonetheless important to fund and implement as systematic enhancements to the transportation system. For example, the officially adopted Northeastern Illinois Greenways and Trails Plan (RGTP) envisions a network of continuous greenway and trail corridors, linked across jurisdictions, providing scenic beauty, natural habitat, and recreational and transportation opportunities. Completion of this plan and complementary on-street facilities would create a robust, integrated network, connecting cyclists and pedestrians to communities and amenities across the region. Since 2013, CMAP has been using the RGTP to guide funding decisions for the Transportation Alternatives Program.

It is also crucial to make transit stations and the street network surrounding them accessible for all. The CTA has initiated an All Stations Accessibility Program that will establish a blueprint for making the 42 remaining non-accessible rail stations accessible over the next 20 years. These remaining stations have unique needs and require complex design and engineering work as well as additional financial resources.

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program (CREATE) is a public-private partnership between freight railroads, U.S. DOT, IDOT, the City of Chicago, Metra, and Amtrak.[1] First announced in 2003, the CREATE program consists of 70 projects spanning a range of rail infrastructure improvements. As of January 2018, 29 projects have been completed, five are under construction, 17 are in various design stages, and the remaining 19 projects will begin upon identification of funding resources.[2] Most of the CREATE program’s funding to date has come from the public sector, primarily the federal and state governments, and yet implementation of its most public-facing projects has lagged. The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (75th St. CIP) is the largest, most complex, and most significant remaining component of the CREATE program, and a constrained RSP.  After completion of the 75th St. CIP, the remaining projects include Passenger Corridors and grade separation projects that do not always meet the RSP threshold. These projects provide direct benefit to the public via improved Metra and Amtrak rail services and reduced delay for trucks, motorists, and transit.

The following outlines the selected regionally significant projects that can help the region improve mobility, the economy, and quality of life.

Expressway projects

Because of pressing needs on the existing expressway system and the region’s limited financial resources, ON TO 2050 does not make major commitments to building and then maintaining new roadways to serve mostly future demand. Instead, the region must reinvest in the existing system. The region’s expressways were largely built in the 1950s and 1960s, and the standard lifespan of these facilities is 50 years. While pavement and bridge rehabilitation can extend the life of these assets, by 2050 the only economical improvement will be a complete rebuild. Due to lagging investment in the region’s road system, that rebuild is needed almost immediately in several cases. By emphasizing reinvestment in the current system, the region can also help support existing communities and, crucially, limit the environmental impacts and long-term costs of constructing new infrastructure. For all expressway projects, implementers will have to consider opportunities to defray construction costs, improve system performance, and support transit service through tolling and managed lanes, as well as consider the value for money and public risk that a PPP might provide as a project delivery mechanism.

The oldest parts of the existing system are also the most affected by chronically unreliable travel times and in some places have major safety problems, both of which can be addressed through design and investments in active traffic management as part of the reconstruction. In some cases, adding capacity through new managed lanes is also appropriate. Managed lanes make the most of any investment in new road capacity by using pricing to control the amount of traffic entering the lanes, which in turn helps keep the lanes uncongested. They also give travelers an option to ensure reliably fast trips even during peak periods.

The following are the constrained regionally significant expressway projects

[GRAPHIC TO COME: Each constrained expressway project will have a graphic representation of a selection of the measures from the RSP evaluation process. A full list of project evaluation results can be found in the RSP project benefits appendix.

Elgin O-Hare Western Access, RSP 20

The Elgin O’Hare Western Access (EOWA) project will provide a new, limited-access facility to reduce congestion and improve access to the airport, supporting the ongoing modernization and expansion of O’Hare. Federal approval for the EOWA was given in 2013, and construction is now underway. The project includes three main components: reconstructing and widening the existing Elgin O'Hare Expressway, extending the expressway east to O’Hare, and adding an expressway around the western side of O'Hare from I-90 to I-294 (the western bypass). All three components will be tolled. It is expected to include express bus service. The first two components are expected to be complete in 2018, while the western bypass is planned for 2025.


Jane Byrne Interchange Reconstruction, RSP 33

The Jane Byrne Interchange Reconstruction project modernizes the busiest intersection in the region, which has not had a major rehabilitation since it was first built more than a half-century ago. While it is mostly a reconstruction, an additional lane is being added on the east-north and north-west ramps, as well as three new flyovers. A new through-lane will also be added on I-90/94, correcting a deficiency that forces drivers to switch lanes when entering the interchange. Both the capacity and reconstruction elements of the project are considered constrained in ON TO 2050. The new ramp configurations and added lanes are expected to improve safety and significantly reduce crashes for all users. The project is currently under construction.


I-55 Stevenson Managed Lanes, RSP 146

The I-55 Stevenson Expressway is one of the most congested segments in the Chicago area. This project would add managed lanes from I-355 to the Dan Ryan. Because of the wide inside shoulder with full-depth pavement along part of the route, adding managed lanes can be relatively inexpensive, making it the most cost-effective congestion reduction project evaluated. IDOT currently anticipates adding two new lanes to assure travel time reliability. Given the success of the I-55 bus on shoulder service, IDOT should specifically incorporate bus priority features into the roadway design and plan for increased service as an improvement over the current bus on shoulder service. Riders on this service would benefit as free users of the managed lane.


IDOT is seeking to build the project through a public-private partnership. It will be critical for the Department to protect the public interest by using a PPP structure that transfers some of the risk to the private partner. It is not assumed that all existing lanes will be tolled as part of this project, but over the longer term, when the adjacent general purpose lanes are reconstructed as part of I-55 Stevenson Expressway Reconstruction (RSP 137), tolling should be implemented on all lanes. This project is also supported in the Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan.


I-55 Barack Obama Presidential Expressway Add-Lanes and Reconstruction, RSP 34

This section of I-55 from I-80 to Coal City Road, contains a 1,400-foot bridge over the Des Plaines River that was built in 1957 and requires frequent rehabilitation. Also importantly, this southern segment of I-55 in Will County serves three large logistics parks and two intermodal rail terminals. The road is typically two lanes in each direction, an operational challenge because of the large numbers of trucks entering, exiting, and traveling on the road. This project would make near-term interchange and spot capacity improvements and ultimately add an additional lane.


I-80 Managed Lanes (US 30 to I-294), RSP 37


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show improvements to I-80.]


Due to the high volume of trucks on I-80, local safety concerns, and other travel needs, I-80 east of US 30 should also be expanded to include managed lanes, with a full examination of options that improve operations across the whole I-80 corridor (in conjunction with RSP 36) and includes consideration of truck-only lanes, full facility tolling, and managed lanes. This project is also supported in the Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan.


Western I-80 Reconstruction and Mobility Improvements (Ridge Road to US 30), RSP 36

The western segment of I-80 from Ridge Road to US 30 in Will County is in critical need of improvement, with failing pavement conditions and the bridge over the Des Plaines River requiring replacement. While this segment has immediate needs, and IDOT will soon be seeking design approval, a full examination of the I-80 corridor to include prospects for developing managed lanes, including truck-only lanes and full facility tolling, is recommended. This project is also supported in the Will County Community Friendly Freight Mobility Plan.


I-190 Access Improvements, RSP 32

O’Hare International Airport and its surrounding freight and manufacturing development are an economic engine for the region, but the area experiences significant congestion and unreliable travel times. The I-190 Access Improvements project consists of reconfiguring arterial access to I-190 and O’Hare International Airport to improve mobility as well as ultimately reconstructing and adding capacity to mainline I-190. Elements of this project are under construction or have been completed. There is a need to evaluate a long-term funding strategy for this project, which could include tolling.


I-290 Eisenhower Reconstruction and Managed Lanes, RSP 30


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show improvements to I-290 and CTA Blue Line reconstruction.]


This project would reconstruct the second oldest pavement on the expressway system and address many bridges that are in poor condition. The Eisenhower consistently ranks as one of the five most congested segments in the region, partly because of the bottleneck created where it drops from four lanes to three west of Central Avenue. It suffers significant safety problems because of several left-hand ramps. I-290 is a multimodal corridor, and this project is closely linked to CTA Blue Line Forest Park Reconstruction (RSP 93), as well as a high-performing potential segment of Pace’s proposed express bus network. This project will include improving bicycle and pedestrian facilities near CTA stations and interchanges in the project corridor, construction of a multi-use trail connecting the Prairie Path and Columbus Park, and configurations that can accommodate express bus service or other future transit investments. The project received a record of decision from FHWA in 2017 to rebuild the expressway and add a high-occupancy toll lane. Given the cost of the project and the lack of alternative fund sources, IDOT should strongly consider tolling the entire facility to offset its construction cost as well as potentially implementing a dual managed lane to improve reliability.


I-290/IL 53/I-90 Interchange Improvement, RSP 21

This project would improve a cloverleaf interchange that is integrated with ramps to and from the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, causing weaving, congestion, and crashes. Some of the loop ramps would be replaced with higher-capacity directional ramps to reduce crashes and improve flow. This project has been studied but requires additional comprehensive analysis, including studying opportunities to support future transit service.


I-294/I-290 Interchange Improvement, RSP 24

The I-290 Eisenhower/I-294 Tri-State interchange has insufficient capacity on ramps and heavy truck volumes. Loop ramps and weaving movements cause congestion and high crash rates. Congestion on southbound I-290 can extend to 14 hours of the day. This project will reconstruct the interchange to reduce weaving movements, replace loop ramps with higher-capacity directional ramps, and reduce crashes. A key benefit will be to improve capacity from the south leg (I-294) to and from the northwest (I-290), which is a regional bottleneck. The Tollway is leading the study of these improvements as part of I-294 Central Tri-State Reconstruction and Mobility Improvements (RSP 23).


I-294 Central Tri-State Reconstruction and Mobility Improvements, RSP 23

The central portion of the I-294 Tristate (95th Street to Balmoral Avenue) has the oldest pavement on the expressway system, yet it is also the most-heavily used portion of the Tollway system. The Tollway proposes to rebuild the expressway and add a flex lane along portions of the route. This presents opportunities to integrate express bus service, and the design of the project should specifically include express bus facilities.


I-294/I-57 Interchange Addition, RSP 22

The crossing of I-294 and I-57 is the only place in the region, and one of very few locations in the country, where two interstates cross but do not have an interchange. The I-294/I-57 interchange project will connect these two interstates for improved accessibility to and from the south suburbs and for improved north-south regional travel. Construction of Phase 1 was completed in 2014 and provided new ramps to connect northbound I-57 to northbound I-294 and southbound I-294 to southbound I-57, as well as an entrance and exit ramp from I-294 to 147th Street. The final phase is planned for completion in 2024.


Expressway projects with constrained longer-term reconstruction needs only

ON TO 2050 covers a planning period of 32 years, during which many expressway segments will come to the end of their useful lives. Many of these segments were submitted as regionally significant projects with both reconstruction and additional capacity components. In future project studies on these segments, adding capacity should be considered, and CMAP’s evaluation suggests that in many cases this capacity would be beneficial. However, in ON TO 2050, only the reconstruction elements of the following projects are constrained:


  • I-57 Reconstruction (I-94 to I-80, I-80 to Will/Kankakee border), RSP 35
  • I-94 Bishop Ford Expressway Reconstruction, RSP 135
  • I-90/I-94 Kennedy and Dan Ryan Expressway Reconstruction (Hubbard to 31st  Street), RSP 136
  • I-55 Stevenson/Barack Obama Presidential Expressway Reconstruction, RSP 137
  • I-90 Kennedy Expressway Reconstruction (East River Road to Edens Junction), RSP 138
  • I-94 Edens Expressway Reconstruction, RSP 139
  • I-90/I-94 Kennedy Expressway Reconstruction (Edens Junction to Hubbard Street), RSP 140
  • I-290/IL-53 Reconstruction, RSP 141


Transit projects

Like the expressway system, much of the rail network will need to be rebuilt during the planning period. Given significant financial constraints and the needs of the existing system, ON TO 2050 limits expansion of the system, instead emphasizing improvements that enable the current system to carry more passengers more quickly and reliably, particularly on lines that have capacity constraints. In some cases, this entails also expanding overall capital by purchasing more rolling stock (trains and buses) to allow for increased service. Faster, more comfortable, higher frequency, and more reliable transit service is a key to increasing transit ridership. The Make transit more competitive recommendation outlines the many other policy and land use planning actions that need to be taken to make these investments successful and lay the groundwork for additional future transit enhancements. Both rail and bus improvements are recommended in ON TO 2050.

The following are the constrained regionally significant transit projects

[GRAPHIC TO COME: Each constrained transit project will have a graphic representation of a selection of the measures from the RSP evaluation process. A full list of project evaluation results can be found in the RSP project benefits appendix.

CTA Blue Line Forest Park Reconstruction, RSP 93


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show improvements to I-290 and CTA Blue Line reconstruction.]


This project would reconstruct the Forest Park Branch of the Blue Line, which is in a deteriorated condition. It includes full modernization of existing infrastructure and upgrades for future capacity increases. The project will reconstruct and reconfigure the Forest Park Terminal and Yard. The CTA’s Blue Line Vision study was conducted in coordination with IDOT’s planning process for the Eisenhower reconstruction (RSP 30), and CTA and IDOT should continue to coordinate these closely related projects throughout their reconstruction. This project would have a high economic impact for the investment required as well as benefits to EDAs.


CTA Blue Line Capacity Project, RSP 147

This project would provide for capacity increases on the Blue Line, based on significant projected ridership growth on the O’Hare branch. This project would include improvements to the traction power system such as wayside energy storage systems, third rail replacement, and/or new infill substations or auxiliary negative rail. It may also include a turn-back track, yard and station improvements, and station expansion. A load flow study is underway to better understand needs. This project supports the O’Hare International Airport expansion and access for tourists and other visitors to the region. There may be some overlap in geographic area between this project and the CTA Blue Line Forest Park Reconstruction (RSP 93) but for the purposes of this plan, project elements have not been double counted.


CTA North Red/Purple Line Modernization Phase One, RSP 58A

The Red/Purple Modernization project envisions a modernization of the 100-year old “L” lines serving the North Side of Chicago and is a significant reinvestment in existing communities. As CTA’s most capacity-constrained line, the project would include a bypass separating the Red Line and Purple Line tracks from the Brown Line north of the Belmont Station to allow higher passenger capacity. The project also reconstructs deteriorated rail infrastructure and stations between the Lawrence and Bryn Mawr stations and replaces the signal system along the corridor. It has committed funding under the federal New Starts program as well as under TFIA, and is currently beginning pre-construction work.


CTA North Red/Purple Line Modernization Future Phases, RSP 58B


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show improvements to CTA North Red/Purple line.]


Future phases of the Red/Purple Modernization project will continue to address deteriorated structure, track, and station conditions from the Belmont to Linden stops as well as allow for additional service. Modeling suggests very high benefits to additional service on the line made possible by investments in capacity, with the largest expected economic impacts of any of the projects evaluated. Reconstruction of viaducts also offers the potential to open neighborhood thoroughfares. Because of the need to reconstruct so much of the existing facility, the project is costly. It is expected that value capture through TFIA would also be able to provide a contribution to the overall cost.


CTA Red Line South Extension, RSP 57

Residents of the South Side of Chicago and the near south suburbs suffer long transit commute times. By extending the Red Line south to 130th Street from its current terminus at 95th Street, the area it serves would see improved access to jobs, particularly by easy transfers to CTA rail downtown, and reduced travel times. The project is relatively cost-effective at increasing ridership and has a high benefit to EDAs. Because it will also allow for a larger yard, it will help address capacity constraints on the whole line. The large park-and-ride lot to be constructed at the 130th Street station will provide new commute options for southern Cook County as well. Value capture through the TFIA legislation should be used to help fund the project.


City of Chicago BRT group

This group of projects includes a significant investment in speeding bus travel within the city of Chicago. Although CDOT and CTA have both investigated numerous routes, a final set of projects has not been identified. More planning must occur to identify the highest ridership routes on which speed and reliability improvements would be most beneficial. The program includes Ashland Avenue BRT (RSP 106), a project with strong performance but on which progress has stalled. It is the most cost-effective project modeled for ON TO 2050. The program also includes the South Halsted BRT route (RSP 108), a collaboration between CTA and Pace, which would have significant benefits to EDAs. Finally, the currently identified list includes the South Lakefront-Museum Campus Access Improvement (RSP 104), which would address the difficulty of reaching the museum campus by transit and help promote tourism.


Metra A-2 Crossing, RSP 98

This project would reconstruct the A-2 Crossing (Western Avenue and Kinzie Street) between Union Pacific and Milwaukee District tracks. The rebuild will help reduce conflicts between Milwaukee District North, Milwaukee District West, North Central Service, and Union Pacific West trains and improve reliability for passengers. The project would have a high economic impact for the investment. Among the alternatives under evaluation are moving the crossing to a new location one mile east and constructing a flyover near the current crossing.


Metra BNSF Improvements, RSP 72

The BNSF Improvements project benefits new and existing riders on Metra’s highest ridership line and is the second most cost-effective of all the projects studied. This project would make track, signal, and other improvements to the BNSF Line to support growth in ridership and upgrades to the capacity of the line. Improvements would allow for additional express service to the highest ridership stations on the line alleviating crowding. A new station at Eola Road in Naperville could provide additional commuter options and relief for congested stations.


Metra Milwaukee District West Improvements, RSP 79

This project would make track, signal, and other improvements to the Milwaukee District West Line to support increased capacity. A storage yard and maintenance facility expansion will enable additional peak period express and reverse commute service. Adding a fourth track from the A-5 junction to Randolph Street in Chicago will also benefit MD-N and NCS. The replacement of the Fox River Bridge (Z-100) is currently underway, funded in part by a TIGER grant. A second track across the river will remove a bottleneck that has restricted capacity.


Metra UP North Improvements, RSP 68

The UP North has the highest percentage of trains over capacity on the Metra system and has major state-of-good-repair problems. The UP North Improvements will improve the capacity and reliability of the line through installation of crossovers and track improvements, and a new outlying coach yard will allow for more efficient servicing of equipment and accommodate expansion of service. Reconstruction of the bridges along the line is a major cost item in the project and will provide significant state-of-good-repair improvements. In addition to planned upgrades to existing stations, a new station at Peterson and Ridge avenues is funded.


Metra UP Northwest Improvements and Extension, RSP 66

The UP Northwest is one of Metra’s most capacity-constrained lines, with inadequate yard space that forces ad hoc storage of trains on sidings along the route. A 1.6-mile extension to Johnsburg from McHenry will also allow space for new yards. Other infrastructure upgrades include improvements to the signal system, crossovers, and track improvements to increase capacity and reliability. Two additional stations will be added to the line at Prairie Grove and Ridgefield. These combined improvements are estimated to increase ridership considerably on the line. Planning for transit-supportive development at new stations and for feeder bus service will increase access along the line.


Metra UP West Improvements, RSP 69

The UP West Improvements will provide track, signal, safety, and infrastructure improvements to increase passenger service and coordinate with freight traffic. Specifically, a third track will be added to an existing double-track portion of the line east of Elmhurst. These improvements will enable the UP West to better serve as an alternative to the BNSF line and also to operate more effectively in coordination with freight rail movements. Part of the project involves upgrades to signal systems, crossovers, pedestrian safety improvements, and new triple track.


Metra Rock Island Improvements, RSP 70

Metra’s improvements to the Rock Island District (RID) Line will enhance coordination between freight and Metra trains as well as allow for eventual connection of the SouthWest Service (SWS) with LaSalle Street Station. This project will improve rail freight movement through the region, provide capacity for additional express service, reduce congestion, and improve access at Union Station. Improvements include adding a third track between Gresham Junction and a point north of 16th Street Junction, new signals, and an expanded and modernized 47th Street Yard, which will have major efficiency benefits to Metra operations. CREATE Project P1, a rail flyover at the Englewood interlocking, is also part of this project and is complete.


75th St. Corridor Investment Program / Metra SouthWest Service Enhancements, RSP 67


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show improvements to 75th St. corridor.]


This is one of the last major CREATE projects. Six major railroads -- two passenger and four freight -- pass through the 75th Street corridor on Chicago’s South Side, crossing each other and local roads and creating intense train and road traffic back-ups. In addition, the current track layout routes Metra’s Southwest Service to the congested Union Station. The proposed improvements include two rail-to-rail grade separations to untangle the railroad tracks, including a flyover to reroute the Metra Southwest Service to the less congested La Salle Street Station. This, combined with additional Southwest Service track and less freight interference, will facilitate additional trains and other service improvements for the Southwest Service. The engineering for this project is advanced; final design is required. It has strong potential as a public-private project among the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Cook County, Metra, and private railroads.


Pace Pulse Expansion, RSP 102A


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show Pulse improvements.]


The Pace Pulse program of projects would speed bus service on Pace’s most heavily used routes by implementing TSP, stations with enhanced amenities, and other improvements. Modeling suggests that the project would be very cost-effective and would have significant average commute time savings for a bus project. Only the near-term projects in the full 24-route program are considered constrained in ON TO 2050.


West Loop Transportation Center Phase I (Union Station) Improvements, RSP 85

The West Loop Transportation Center is envisioned as a new transportation hub that would reconfigure Chicago Union Station and ultimately lead to greatly improved connections between rapid transit, bus, commuter rail, and intercity rail services. Amtrak is the owner and operator of Union Station, and this project will also promote access for tourism, as well as intercity bus and rail connections. Only Phase 1 is on the fiscally constrained project list; it will increase capacity within the existing footprint of Union Station by creating new platforms and tracks and by repurposing currently inactive tracks and platforms formerly used for mail handling. It will also expand platforms used by Metra commuters, reconfigure the station’s internal spaces to increase passenger capacity, and provide a weather-protected pedestrian connection to the Blue Line. Continued attention to intercity bus accommodations is needed in Phase 1. It is expected that value capture through TFIA would also be able to provide a contribution to the overall cost. Phase 2 is envisioned as creating a new subway along Clinton to connect from Union Station to the Blue Line; this element is unconstrained.

Arterial projects

The arterial projects considered in ON TO 2050 are confined to larger improvements to the non-interstate portion of the NHS, that is, the major roadways that carry a quarter of the traffic in the region. There are many needs for traffic flow, safety, and pavement and bridge condition improvement on this roadway system alone. Most of the projects submitted are relatively short-term priorities for implementers, with construction expected in four to seven years, and with design approval already in place or anticipated to be sought before the ON TO 2050 update.


North Lake Shore Drive Improvements (RSP 89)

[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show North Lake Shore Drive improvements. This project will also have a graphic representation of a selection of the measures from the RSP evaluation process. A full list of project evaluation results can be found in the Draft ON TO 2050 Regionally Significant Projects Benefits Report

The North Lake Shore Drive Improvements project is a unique, complex, and multi-faceted project that would reconstruct numerous failing bridges, correct major safety deficiencies, improve severe travel time unreliability, and protect the drive from worsening storm damage. Lake Shore Drive is a very high ridership transit corridor; during the peak, buses carry 30 percent of travelers between Fullerton Avenue and Oak Street in 1 percent of the vehicles, and over the course of a full day carry 34,000 riders, more than many CTA rail branches. Treatments that provide transit priority to speed bus travel and allow for more service should be key elements of the project. The Redefine the Drive study is currently evaluating alternatives to identify the best way to improve the drive for all users, including drivers, transit riders, and lakefront park users. It is critical for the project to include managed lane strategies to help guarantee more predictable travel, with a strong emphasis on pricing strategies.

The following are the other constrained regionally significant arterial projects



Total cost (YOE $b)

North/West Limits

South/East Limits


Central Av



BRC Railroad

54th St

Addresses grade crossing that is part of CREATE

IL-31 Front St





Addresses heavy congestion in eastern McHenry County

IL-43/Harlem Ave



BRC Railroad

65th St

Addresses grade crossing that is part of CREATE




Charles Rd

Reed Rd

Improves deficient bridges and improves operations




IL-176/ Maple Ave


Addresses heavy congestion in Lake County

IL-62/Algonquin Rd





Addresses safety, condition, and congestion issues

IL-83/Barron Blvd



Petite Lake Rd

IL-120/Belvidere Rd

Provides better reliability and freight mobility

IL-83/Kingery Hwy



31st St

Central Ave

Estimated to provide significant economic benefits

IL-131/Greenbay Rd



Russell Rd

Sunset Ave

Provides better reliability and has equity benefits

IL-173/Rosecrans Rd




US-41/Skokie Hwy

Addresses heavy congestion in Lake County

Laraway Rd




Harlem Ave

Provides upgrade roadway to accommodate growth in corridor

Randall Rd



Corporate Boulevard

North of Oak St

Provides significant mobility and economic benefits

US-12/95th St



At Stony Island Ave

Addresses significant intersection operational issues

US-20/Lake St



Randall Rd

Shales Pkwy

Replaces deficient bridges and makes key safety improvements

US-45/Olde Half Day Rd



IL-60/ Townline Rd

IL-22/Half Day Rd

Addresses major mobility/reliability need

Vollmer Rd



Kedzie Ave

Western Ave

Benefits EDAs

Wilmington-Peotone Rd



IL 53

Drecksler Rd

Improves freight movement and provides economic benefits

Unconstrained projects

Numerous projects could not be included within the fiscally constrained portion of ON TO 2050, either because they require more study or because they cannot be completed within the limits of the region’s forecasted revenues. Projects that meet the RSP definition cannot receive environmental clearance from FHWA or FTA under the National Environmental Policy Act, or access certain federal funding and financing programs, without being in the fiscally constrained portion of the plan. However, projects on the unconstrained list can continue to be studied. The required four-year update of ON TO 2050 in 2022 will provide an opportunity to review the list of RSPs. In addition, plan amendments can be offered outside of the update cycle according to an amendment process that will be tailored to reflect ON TO 2050’s planning priorities.

The following are the unconstrained regionally significant projects


Caton Farm Road – Bruce Road Corridor

This project would provide a new bridge over the Des Plaines River and I & M Canal as well as approach roadway to join Caton Farm Road and Bruce Road in Will County. Various alignments are presently being studied. Further work is needed to select a final alignment and develop a financing plan for the project before consideration for the fiscally constrained portion of the plan.


Chicago Streetcar Light Rail Lines

Numerous routes for light rail lines in the city of Chicago were submitted by the public, in some cases replacing existing CTA bus service. Limited planning has been conducted with only high-level cost estimation. Modeling for some routes suggests they could generate appreciable ridership, and have positive economic impacts and other benefits. However, they would represent a relatively high capital investment while not addressing existing system state-of-good-repair needs.


Circle Line

The Circle Line is a proposed circumferential rail service that would connect several existing CTA rail lines. It would be built in two phases, with the north section traveling largely along Ashland Avenue from the Green/Pink Lines to North/Clybourn on the Red Line. The southern portion of the Circle Line would run from the Ashland Station on the Green/Pink Lines to the Orange Line and use that right of way to enter the Loop. This project is costly for the level of benefits it would provide. Ashland BRT also would serve the corridor more cost-effectively.


CrossRail Chicago

This far-reaching and ambitious project involves electrifying and making operational changes to the Metra North Central Service as well as linking that service to the Metra Electric via the St. Charles Air Line south of Union Station. Some improvements considered part of CrossRail are constrained in ON TO 2050, such as the A-2 Crossing. The project shares some elements with the O’Hare Express and may depend on that project's outcome.


Cross-Town Tollway and CTA Route

The Cross-Town Expressway would be a new expressway along Cicero Avenue in Chicago. As submitted by the public, it also includes a rail line similar to the Mid-City Transitway. While it is estimated to reduce congestion and improve job access more than any other project, it would be very expensive and disruptive to existing communities.


CTA Blue Line West Extension

This project would extend the CTA Blue Line Forest Park Branch to the west along the I-290 and I-88 corridors, with an interim terminus at Mannheim Rd. and an ultimate terminus as far west as Lombard. However, there are major state-of-good-repair needs on the existing line, and improving existing service through the constrained Forest Park Branch Reconstruction project would have a much larger positive impact on riders than extending it westward.


CTA Brown Line Core Capacity

Following station reconstructions and platform extensions to serve eight-car trains in the mid-2000s, this project would further increase capacity on the Brown Line. A program of potential improvements, including reconfiguring the Kimball Yard, upgrading signals, and adding a turnback to short-turn trains, should receive additional study.


CTA Brown Line Extension

This project would extend the CTA Brown Line along Lawrence Avenue from Kimball to the Jefferson Park Transit Center. Rail alternatives are costly relative to the benefits they would provide.


CTA Green Line Extension

This project would extend the Green Line to its historical terminus at Stony Island Avenue. It has a high cost relative to its expected benefits.


CTA Orange Line Extension

This project would extend the CTA Orange Line from its current terminus at Midway Airport to the Ford City shopping center. It would have relatively low benefits for its cost.


CTA Yellow Line Enhancements and Extension

This project would extend the Yellow Line from its current terminus at Dempster Street Station to Old Orchard Mall. It would have relatively low benefits for its cost.


I-80 to I-55 Connector

This project would connect the Illiana Expressway and the Prairie Parkway; its utility depends on their construction.


Illiana Expressway

The Illiana Expressway, a new limited-access facility running east-west through southern Will County, would help alleviate truck traffic on rural roads that is associated with intermodal facilities. However, the improvements to I-80 and I-55 recommended in ON TO 2050 will help address these needs while also fixing infrastructure in a state of disrepair. These efforts can also support the existing communities, residents, and jobs in the subregion. The NEPA documentation under which the project could advance to construction was invalidated by federal court rulings in 2015 and 2016.


McHenry-Lake Corridor

The utility of this project, which would build a limited access facility through northeastern McHenry County, depends on the construction of the Tri-County Access.


Metra Electric Improvements / Modern Metra Electric

Several proposals to improve the Metra Electric (ME) were considered in ON TO 2050; they have near term promise but need more study. The line has state-of-good-repair challenges that need to be addressed, particularly station condition, and it would have strong benefits for EDAs. Work on the ME should attend closely to the service plan, as initial modeling suggests that eliminating express trains (the Modern Metra Electric proposal) has negative effects on job access. The future of the ME could also benefit from better alignment and integration with CTA service and fare structure and, more broadly, a partnership among agencies in the region committed to implementation.


Metra extensions

A number of extensions to Metra lines were examined for ON TO 2050 and are unconstrained (as distinct from improvements to existing lines, several of which are constrained). For the most part, they would generate limited ridership and make limited improvements to job access, although in some cases they help improve existing operations by allowing for more outlying yard space. The most cost-effective of these projects would extend the BNSF to Oswego/Plano. Preliminary engineering on this project has begun. Supportive land use planning should accompany project development, and either Kendall County or areas within the county should consider joining the RTA service area to further the project. Additional extensions considered included extending the Metra Electric line to a future South Suburban Airport, extending the Milwaukee District North line to Wadsworth or Richmond, extending the Milwaukee District West line to Marengo or Hampshire, extending the Rock Island line to Minooka, extending the BNSF line to Sugar Grove, and extending the Heritage Corridor line Wilmington.


Metra Heritage Corridor Improvements

This project would reduce freight conflicts, upgrade infrastructure, increase service levels, and add stations. Some elements of this project are associated with CREATE. This project is in an early stage of planning.


Metra Milwaukee District North Improvements

This project would enhance the Metra Milwaukee District North line between Fox Lake and the Rondout junction in Lake County by making track, signal, and other improvements. This project is in an early stage of planning.


Metra North Central Service Improvements

This project would upgrade Metra North Central Service to allow for full service levels. This project is currently in an early stage of planning.


Metra Rock Island, UP North, and UP Northwest RER projects

Submitted by the public, these projects would convert the Metra Rock Island, UP North, and UP Northwest lines from diesel to electric operations and would provide higher-frequency, headway-based rapid transit service. Limited planning has been conducted with only high-level cost estimation. Metra is encouraged to study the system benefits and costs of electrification.


Metra SouthEast Service

This project would provide Metra service to communities in southern Cook and northern Will counties. The project is undergoing study currently. A key element of this work should be demonstrating the ability to cover capital and operating costs and showing local financial commitment to provide matching funds for a future New Starts application. Some of the market for the project may be served by the NICTD West Lake corridor, a proposed commuter train service to Dyer, Indiana, that is currently advancing.


North Algonquin Fox River Crossing

This project would provide a new bridge over the Fox River in the gap between the IL 62 and US 14 bridges. It is in an early stage of planning.


North Branch Transitway

This project, in the early stages of planning, would build a new rapid transit line to serve new development associated with the North Branch Framework Plan in Lincoln Park along the Chicago River. The mode has not been determined.


O’Hare Airport Express Train

The City of Chicago is currently studying a train service that would provide a 20-minute or less travel time from O’Hare to downtown and allow baggage check-in. It would be procured as a public-private partnership. Currently at least three service concepts exist with different routes and downtown terminals. Additional study and financial information is needed before consideration for fiscal constraint.


Pace Express Bus Expansion

Pace’s collaboration with IDOT and the Tollway to offer faster service by running in the shoulder of I-55 and now I-94 as well as in the flex lane on the Jane Addams has seen early success. Short-term enhancements to Pace’s express bus service are considered constrained, but a longer-term look at express bus expansion opportunities will be part of the Vision for the Northeastern Illinois Expressway System project.


Pace Pulse ART Expansion Mid- and Far-Term

While the agency’s focus is the constrained short-term routes, Pace’s Pulse program includes a number of future routes serving developing markets. These routes would be most effective with supportive land use change over time, and municipalities should specifically seek higher densities and improvements in infrastructure connectivity in those corridors as part of local planning and zoning.


River North-Streeterville Transit Improvements

This project aims to speed bus service on North Michigan Avenue and elsewhere in River North. A project study is ongoing and has not reached a preferred set of improvements; more study is needed before inclusion in the plan.


S.M.A.R.T. (Suburban Metropolitan Area Rapid Transit)

Submitted by the public, this project would build a circumferential monorail. While its modeled improvement to travel times and job access are high, because of its high capital requirements, it is not cost-effective and does not address existing system needs.


STAR Line (Initial, Eastern, and Northern Segments)

This project would create a new rail service from Joliet to Hoffman Estates through western Will, DuPage, and Cook counties, and also connect Hoffman Estates to O’Hare airport along I-90. In addition to the Initial Segment from Joliet to O’Hare, further extensions to Waukegan and Lynwood were also evaluated. Modeling suggests the project would have limited cost-effectiveness. Further, the transit market along I-90 is now served by Pace’s express bus service in the Jane Addams flex lane, and future express bus and Pulse service could provide similar north-south connectivity.


Tri-County Access

A northern extension of IL-53 and expansion of IL-120 in Lake County could have substantial mobility benefits for the region, however a new consensus regarding this project’s scope, design, and financing is needed. Prior planning efforts provide solid foundations to identify a solution, however these studies either need updating or did not complete the federally required analyses needed to support a decision. In 2017, the Tollway, in collaboration with FHWA and IDOT, initiated the Tri-County Access Project EIS to address transportation needs in eastern McHenry, northern Cook, and Lake counties. The Tri-County Access project EIS will build on prior studies to inform the identification of a preferred alternative for transportation improvements in the project area. As it progresses, the Tri-County Access Project should identify fundable solutions that improve mobility, preserve community character, and preserve environmental quality identified in the most recent previous planning effort, the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council report from 2012.[3]


West Loop Transportation Center Phase II

This project would expand on Phase I improvements to Union Station by building north-south and east-west subway tunnels to connect CTA and Metra service. It is in an early stage of planning.



[1] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “CREATE program status check,”February 20, 2015,

[2] CREATE program, “Status of CREATE projects (1/25/2017),” January 25, 2017,

[3] “Illinois Route 53/120 Project: Blue Ribbon Advisory Council Resolution and Summary Report,” June 7, 2012,

To Top


Return to Draft Plan Home