On October 12, 2022, the CMAP Board approved an update to the ON TO 2050 long-range plan, including an updated regionally significant projects benefits report.

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 Regionally Significant Project (RSP) definition cannot receive environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration or Federal Transit Administration 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. 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.

CMAP, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the Tollway are partnering to develop a multijurisdictional, multimodal vision for the region’s expressway system that will build on the constrained project list, identifying additional potential investments in the existing system that can improve operations, support transit, and benefit the environment, as well as the additional financial commitments needed to implement this vision. These investments and revenues are outside the scope of ON TO 2050.

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 Illinois and Michigan (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 Chicago Transit Authority (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 bus rapid transit 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. As envisioned, the project involves many implementers and shares some elements with the O’Hare Express, and therefore 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 National Environmental Policy Act 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 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 economically disconnected areas. Work on the Metra Electric 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 Metra Electric 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, and it has strong support from local groups. Supportive land use planning should accompany project development, and either Kendall County or areas within the county should consider joining the Regional Transportation Authority service area and developing a financial plan for both capital and operating costs 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( Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency ) . 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, Union Pacific (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 Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District 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

Given the severe congestion in Lake County, a northern extension of IL-53 and expansion of IL-120 in Lake County would 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 the Federal Highway Administration and IDOT, initiated the Tri-County Access Project Environmental Impact Statement (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. To meet the goals of ON TO 2050 and provide badly needed congestion relief in Lake County, 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.{{“Illinois Route 53/120 Project: Blue Ribbon Advisory Council Resolution and Summary Report,” June 7, 2012, https://www.illinoistollway.com/documents/20184/96209/2012-06_FinalCouncilSummaryReport_web.pdf/4a6426bf-a46b-476e-bdee-bdc4b2d26d21?version=1.0.}}

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.