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City Hall eyes Goose Island rail acquisition for proposed North Branch transitway

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The move could clear a path for future transit options such as light rail

Flickr Creative Commons/vxla

In anticipation of megadevelopments like Lincoln Yards bringing thousands of new residents, workers, and soccer fans to Chicago’s North Branch Corridor, city officials are moving to acquire a nearby stretch of abandoned railroad tracks for use as a possible transitway in the future.

This week, City Hall’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate approved a measure allowing the city to acquire 1.8 miles of the Chicago Terminal Railroad—a line running north-south through the middle of Goose Island—from longtime owner Iowa Pacific Holding. The ordinance is set go before the full Chicago City Council for approval on December 12.

A diagram from 2017’s North Branch Framework Plan showing a potential route of the proposed transitway using the Chicago Terminal Railroad.
City of Chicago

The right of way could be used as a new transit route as well as a multipurpose trail connecting to a proposed extension of The 606 trail and a conceptual North Branch River Trail from the city’s North Branch Framework Plan, according to the legislation.

As the North Branch evolves from industrial corridor to mixed-use neighborhood and entertainment district, the city’s proactive steps toward addressing future transportation and open space concerns is certainly commendable. That being said, there is still much about the ambitious plan that needs to be fleshed out.

Major unknowns include the transitway’s cost, timeline, funding sources, and whether it will use buses, light railcars, or even autonomous vehicles, notes the Chicago Tribune. The route would still need to extend further south of Goose Island—through Tribune Media’s sprawling 37-acre River District development and past Blommer Chocolate—to reach the commuter trains at Ogilvie Transportation Center, reported the newspaper.

If approved as expected at next week’s Council meeting, the ordinance would give City Hall additional powers to negotiate the purchase or seizure of other properties needed to complete the North Branch connector, said the Tribune.