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Ambitious plan to expand Chicago’s transit network hopes to win $100M grant

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The much discussed ‘Chicago connector’ would be phase one of a much larger expansion plan

With the lofty goal of curing downtown’s congestion woes while also providing better transit access to the South Side and the site of the Obama Presidential Center, the civic group known as The Chicago Central Area Committee has released its plan to realize the long-discussed 14-mile ‘Chicago Connector’ rail line. The organization has submitted its proposal to the MacArthur Foundation in hopes of scoring a $100 million grant earmarked by the nonprofit to "solve a critical issue."

The first phase of the project, dubbed the "minimum operable segment" or MOS, would be built to connect the busy West Loop Metra hubs at Union and Ogilvie Stations to the intersection of Columbus and Illinois in Streeterville. Taking advantage of the existing Carroll Avenue below grade right-of-way, this two-mile segment will reportedly cost $750 million.

Future phases would add additional branches to connect areas of Chicago that have been underserved by rail transit like the Museum Campus and Cabrini Green as well as serve major upcoming development sites like Rezkoville, Finkl Steel, Michael Reese, and the aforementioned Obama Library in Jackson Park.

As with any upgrades to Chicago’s transit infrastructure both routine and grandiose, funding remains an issue. If awarded the MacArthur money, CCAC would establish the Chicago Transit Redevelopment Trust to engage with local stakeholders and governmental agencies to aid with implementation and to help secure financing.

While the CCAC study points to the federal government as a potential source for some of the project’s funding, the creation of a downtown Special Service Area (SSA) that would tax commercial properties combined with Chicago’s recently enacted ability to create transit-specific TIF districts could—maybe—cover the remaining costs.

The CCAC's comprehensive Connector Transitway plan can be viewed in its entirety here.