Eyebrows raised Wednesday as Mayor Rahm Emanuel stood in the long-abandoned and never used CTA Superstation under Block 37, to tout his hopes for a privately-financed express train to O’Hare.
Could it be that the long dormant white elephant might finally be used?
Not exactly. At least, not yet.
The station was to have been the terminus of express service to both O’Hare and Midway. The Daley administration abandoned the project, but not before putting more than $250 million into the station, which was immediately padlocked and forgotten.
“It’s hard to come up with a description for that sort of incompetence,” the Civic Federation’s Lawrence Msall told NBC5 in 2015 when we exposed costs for the unused station which include millions in interest payments every year.
“The toll is about $400 million and rising,” Msall said. “The taxpayers and the riders of the CTA will be paying for this project 20 years after it was stopped.”
Now, the Emanuel administration is revisiting the idea, proposing a privately-financed, privately-operated rail line to O’Hare. Standing in the shuttered superstation, the mayor underlined his intention that no taxpayer money would be involved.
“Today the world has a lot of resources going toward infrastructure,” he said. “Funding isn’t the issue---engineering is.”
Who wouldn’t want to make the trip to O’Hare nonstop in about 20 minutes? The city vision is of high speed trains which would run seamlessly to O’Hare, at a cost somewhere between the CTA’s basic fare and the $60+ charged by cabs which creep along the Kennedy in rush-hour traffic.
But what about that station? Was the mayor’s presence there evidence that the taxpayers’ big investment was finally going to get dusted off and used?
“We are taking not just this property but the idea of express rail,” he said. “And taking something that was once empty and bringing it to life and vibrancy.”
Pressed on whether the superstation would absolutely be a part of new Loop-to-O’Hare service, the mayor conceded that was an open question.
“It was easier to do it here,” he said, speaking of the news conference. “Obviously this was built with the vision for that, but there’s no specificity as it relates to…there’s a lot of different places. Obviously this has a prime target or a prime idea, but it’s not specific.”
Asked for clarification, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins told NBC5 that the city’s request for quotations from developers listed three possible locations for the proposed system’s terminus: Union Station, the CTA’s Clinton Green Line stop, and the Superstation at Block 37.
“If some company had other realistic plans,” he said, “we’d be willing to consider that too.”
Both the CTA and the Emanuel administration have been quick to point out that the multi-million dollar mistake under Block 37 was a project of a different mayor and different transit staff. But the CTA owns it, and the taxpayers are still paying for it.
For his part, the mayor stressed the novel approach of a private train and his promise that the endeavor would not involve cost to taxpayers.
“I want you to see this as, the city has never taken a step like this,” he said. “We’re taking the next step, the right step, at this point, given where both technology is and where resources are, to invest in the City’s future.”