Friday, May 31st, 2013
Here’s a blast from the past. A miscellaneous news roundup posting with a look at specific transport projects. I don’t plan to permanently bring this back, but had a couple things I wanted to highlight.
Chicago in the National Media
The national media spotlight continues to focus on Chicago, and not entirely in a positive way. The New York Times has a magazine cover piece piece called “The Death and Life of Chicago” and Time Magazine has a cover story as well. I know that more like this are in the works.
I haven’t read the Time piece yet. The NYT does highlight the good that has happened in Chicago recently, but also focuses on a lot of the negatives that remain in the city.
It’s a credit to Rahm that he’s out aggressively trying to defend the city (and himself of course) in the national media given the very negative spotlight that has been shined on it because of the murder problems. He’s definitely not hunkering down.
But more than anything it shows perhaps the sins of the father being visited on the son. Mayor Daley was the recipient of basically nothing but national media puffery despite Chicago suffering a lost decade on his watch. The national media embarrassed themselves in this. Now, Rahm is taking all the heat for a lot of what happened under his predecessor’s watch. I’m amazed that Daley’s reputation nationally remains so strong while Rahm is getting brutualized. One would think the problems of Chicago would at least prompt some re-evaluation of Daley’s record (which I believe on balance was positive, by the way).
This is not to say Rahm should get off the hook. He deserves credit for a lot of things like his aggressive corporate recruitment efforts, budget cuts, and reinvigorating transport. However, the real mark of a successful mayor is in public safety and schools. If he fails to turn these around, then no matter what else he accomplishes Rahm will rightly be judged a failure. So while he shouldn’t get all the blame for how things got here, he’s now the man and is accountable for results.
Chicago Rail Bypass
Crain’s Chicago Business had an interesting report on a proposed $3 billion rail bypass of Chicago. It’s a privately floated plan that doesn’t appear to be backed by any particular organization, but it’s very intriguing. You can download a complete presentation on it at Crain’s.
There’s a proposal on the table to build a freeway called the Illiana Expressway linking I-57 to I-65 on the far southern fringes of the Chicago metro area. No doubt this is a sprawl inducer to the max. But this proposal suggests piggybacking on that to build a six lane freight rail corridor parallel to the expressway. It would be fully grade separated, financed by private backers, and open access to all rail carriers while owned by none. The idea is that it would allow rail traffic that is merely passing through Chicago to bypass the horrific rail congestion there while avoiding a lot of inter-carrier politicking. It would also open up a massive amount of land to rail-oriented industrial development that could conceivably be served by any carrier on an open access basis.
It definitely an idea worth exploring. An aspect I find intriguing is using the same concept to preserve right of way in the Illiana for a future high speed rail service. As a grade separated route, this would enable true high speed rail. Also, it could be used to connect service from both the southeast (Indy, Cincinnati, Louisville) and southwest (St. Louis) to the Illinois Central mainline, which is the clear best route into downtown Chicago given that it’s largely grade separated already and has few interconnect points with other rail lines. Plus it has huge ROW that potentially enables dedicated high speed tracks. I have always said that to serve Indianapolis, and thus points beyond, ideally there would be a new terrain route, and this would be the connector between that route and the IC.
Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes from this.
Freeway Upgrade in Indianapolis
The Indianapolis Star is reporting that north suburban Hamilton County is studying a plan to turn SR 37 into a freeway. This would be similar to projects undertaken in nearby Carmel on Keystone Ave and US 31.
Clearly many of my readers would see this as about sprawl, and it is. But the sprawl is already here. There’s a couple points I want to make though.
1. This shows that the people who invest early in infrastructure win. Carmel’s upgrade of Keystone Ave. is complete and US 31 is underway. This project is comparable but seems to be coming with a much higher price tag. This is the financial price they pay for being late to the party. Investing in infrastructure can be a big elephant to digest in the short term, but in the long term there are big benefits.
2. SR 37 was already limited access. It was an at grade road, but there was no driveway access and with intersections only at major streets. So it served as a good regional transport corridor. Fishers and Noblesville, the towns it passed through, permitted tons of retail along the route and basically turned it into a typical congested shopping street. Many new stoplights were added. This not only drove the price tag up, but also created a business community that actually wants congestion. They don’t want this project because they think gridlock is good for their business. The good of motorists or the rest of the community doesn’t seem to be on their agenda. This goes to show how catering to certain types of businesses and such can not only create direct problems like traffic congestion, it also creates a constituency opposed to broader community interests.
3. The rich get richer. Carmel is the most upscale suburb in the region. It put in place high end infrastructure and has attracted significant high end office development and residents. Nearby Westfield is seeking to imitate that model. Fishers and Noblesville will struggle to get this project done, even if they take it on. But if they abandon it, they’ve left themselves stuck with a typical strip mall type retail infrastructure that will quickly age and leave them with redevelopment challenges down the road. They will have built themselves out on a model is that already proven not to age well (as shown by the township areas of Marion County/Indianapolis, for example). This shows the various decisions that propel community divergence. This goes with point #2 above as places tend to attract constituencies that perpetuate the current direction.
This project looks excessively priced to me. There are clearly too many interchanges, including new ones where there aren’t even cross-streets today. I think there’s plenty of opportunity to cut costs out of here, or build incrementally or along only a portion of the route. The complaints from various parties that are already coming out of the woodwork bode ill for these towns building what is in fact a critical piece of infrastructure they need for future success.
You can view a project summary here. You will need the actual Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.