It’s been a long time coming for many, but good news was announced Thursday for CTA Blue Line users.
The Chicago Transit Authority released information about a Blue Line Forest Park Branch Feasibility/Vision Study that will assess needs of the branch between the Clinton and Forest Park stations. Essentially, CTA officials will determine if and how more user-friendly stations can be constructed.
This study, which will offer long-range planning options and ways to modernize rail lines, also has the potential to stimulate new economic development for communities along I-290, according to the CTA news release. It will be paid for through a combination of federal funds and in coordination with the village of Oak Park, whose leaders helped secure a chunk of money to conduct the study.
But Forest Park is also in on the conversation.
“The village has been working with CTA for the last six months,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian. Gillian said the Illinois Dept. of Transportation task force has started to include CTA representatives in meetings about expanding the Eisenhower Expressway.
“CTA was invited because some part is likely to include the modernization of the Blue Line and possibly an extension to somewhere, to be decided,” said Gillian.
Oak Park secured grants in 2005 through a transportation bill to expand bridge decking near stations along the Ike to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. The funding must be met with a 20 percent match, but CTA agreed to pick up that portion.
CTA has vowed to continue to identify and work with key stakeholders along the route, according to the press release. Because the Blue Line feasibility analysis will be done in coordination with IDOT’s current planning for the circle interchange and reconstruction of I-290, the planning will involve multiple stakeholders.
Enhancing the Blue Line stops along the Ike and expanding the line west to Maywood and even Hillside is something leaders in Forest Park, Oak Park and other nearby communities have said could help address congestion issues on the expressway.
Rob Cole, Oak Park’s assistant village manager, said the CTA needs to be in on the conversation.
“An investment in the Blue Line is an investment in improving traffic issues on I-290,” he said. The two transportation systems operate in tandem. It’s synergistic. You can’t divorce one or two of the other.”
The newest Blue Line Feasibility/Vision Study is anticipated to be completed by late 2013 or early 2014.
Gillian said Forest Park has been talking to IDOT and the CTA about walkability issues.
“Quite honestly, the biggest things discussed [by the village and CTA] were pedestrian safety,” Gillian said.
“Walkability and safety at Harlem, Desplaines and Circle [avenues] were at the forefront of our discussions with IDOT and the CTA,” he added.
Gillian said future land use in Forest Park is heavily determined by access to transportation hubs.
“The big words now are transit-oriented development, or ‘TOD’ areas,” Gillian said. “There are very few spots within Forest Park that don’t fit into transit-oriented development.”
“It will be a major component of the land use and marketing strategies that may come out of the comprehensive plan.”