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Chicago, Illinois/Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project

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Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project

Chicago, Illinois

(November 1999)

(Douglas Branch Reconstruction Map)


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is proposing a complete reconstruction of the approximately 6.6-mile length of the existing Douglas Branch of CTA’s heavy rail Blue Line. The line extends from a point just west of downtown Chicago to its terminus at Cermak Avenue. The Douglas Branch Line was originally built in the early 20th Century with several improvements and upgrades occurring through the mid-1980s. The line currently carries approximately 27,000 average weekday boardings utilizing 11 existing stations. Due to its age, the line has become seriously deteriorated which has resulted in high maintenance and operating costs and declining service. The Douglas Branch serves one of the most economically distressed areas in Chicago. Total capital costs for the proposed heavy rail reconstruction project are estimated at $450.8 million (escalated dollars).

Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project Summary Description

Proposed Project Reconstruction of heavy rail line
6.6 miles, 11 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $450.80 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $320.10 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $3.10 million (in addition to current Douglas Branch operating costs)
Ridership Forecast (2020) 6,000 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended rating is based on the strongly transit supportive land use along the corridor and the demonstrated local financial commitment to the project. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions and refined financing plans.


In November 1997, the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) – local metropolitan planning organization - included the Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project in the region’s financially constrained long range transportation plan. CTA is currently completing an examination of the environmental impacts and benefits of the proposed project. This engineering-level work is scheduled for completion in early 2000. 

Section 3030(a)(106) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorizes the "Douglas Branch [CTA]" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $4.92 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium-High project justification rating reflects the strong transit supportive land use in the Douglas Branch corridor and the adequacy of all other justification measures.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

The CTA estimates that the Douglas Branch improvements will attract 6,000 daily new riders in 2020, and that the project will realize the following travel time savings in comparison with the No-Build and TSM alternatives.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 4.7 million hours 2.6 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 10,056 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the Douglas Branch Line. This represents 30 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the Douglas Branch Line.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

Northeastern Illinois (which includes the Chicago metropolitan area) is classified as being in "severe" nonattainment for ozone. The region is in attainment for carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM10). CTA estimates that in the year 2020, the Douglas Branch Reconstruction project will result in the following emissions reductions:

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 420 annual tons reduction of 253 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 86 annual tons reduction of 73 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) reduction of 52 annual tons reduction of 33 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) No Change No Change
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 24,046 annual tons reduction of 19,262 annual tons

CTA estimates that the proposed project will result in the following decreases in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTUs):

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (million) reduction of 293,194 million BTU reduction of 227,522 million BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

CTA estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile in the year 2020 for the New Start , No-Build, and TSM alternatives:

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.20 $0.21 $0.21

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium

CTA estimates the following cost effectiveness indices:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $11.70 $13.70

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The High land use rating reflects the strong existing urban character of the Chicago central business district (CBD) and the high level of employment and transit-supportive environment that characterizes the corridor.

Existing Conditions: The Douglas Branch of CTA’s Blue Line has been in operation for nearly 100 years, and serves neighborhoods that originally developed around the transit system. The corridor contains an estimated 54,000 jobs and 115,000 residents within a ½ mile radius of station areas. Densities are high, averaging 9,100 jobs and nearly 20,000 persons per square mile. The University of Illinois at Chicago (25,000 students) is a major trip generator. The line serves a large, dense CBD with an estimated 339,000 jobs. After "looping" through the CBD, the Blue Line also extends to O’Hare International Airport corridor (100,000 jobs), and the Medical Center Complex (70,000 jobs).

The six-county metropolitan area is forecast to grow by 25 percent and 37 percent, in population and employment, respectively, between 1990 and 2020. Forecasts indicate growth rates of 20 percent and 18 percent for population and employment, respectively, in the Douglas Branch corridor. Employment in the Chicago CBD is forecast to increase by 18 percent through 2020.

Parking requirements in the CBD range up to one space per 2,500 sq. ft. for all floor area over 700,000 sq. ft. (increments of floor area up to this amount have lower parking requirements – e.g., parking is not required for the first 140,000 sq. ft. of floor area). Chicago zoning ordinances provide bonuses in reduced parking requirements and increased floor-to-area ratios for direct connections to transit, open space, and arcades.

Future Plans and Policies: The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission has initiated a three-year effort to develop and advocate a Regional Growth Strategy for Chicago and Northeastern Illinois. Policies call for renewed growth and investment in disinvested areas, as well as cost-effective public investment and high standards of environmental protection in conjuction with new development or redevelopment. A major challenge of this effort is to work with the myriad of governmental, private sector, civic and other interests in the region to identify mutually beneficial actions. Chicago’s Downtown Parking Policies (adopted 1989) call for striking a balance between the need for off-street parking and the creation of a "healthful, people-oriented downtown." Recommendations include maintaining a "transit first" orientation in transportation planning; providing close-in, short-term parking serving visitors and shoppers; permitting non-accessory and major accessory facilities only in strategically located "zones of accessibility" (outside of the inner core area); and codifying siting and design guidelines to minimize the impact of parking facilities. Design guidelines and policies emphasize site layout and landscaping to minimize the visual impact of parking on the urban environment.

Other Factors

Empowerment/Enterprise Zone: The Douglas Branch Corridor passes through a Federal Empowerment Zone and state-designated Enterprise Zone. Empowerment Zone incentives include employer wage credits, tax deductions, and tax-exempt bond financing for business expansion. There are five existing stations adjacent to an Empowerment Zone. Enterprise Zone benefits include various tax exemptions, reductions, and credits for firms locating in the zone. Eight stations are located near an Enterprise Zone.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 29%

The financial strategy for the proposed reconstruction of the Douglas Branch (Blue Line) project includes $320.1 million (71 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funding, $28.8 million (6 percent) in Section 5307 formula funds, $99.1 million (22 percent) in Illinois DOT bonds, and $2.8 million (1 percent) in RTA bonds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the sound financial condition of CTA and the agency’s strong dedicated revenue sources. The rating also acknowledges the commitment of both the RTA and the Illinois DOT to provide funding for the local match of the Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The CTA, RTA, and State of Illinois are considered to be in sound financial condition. The CTA receives funding for both capital and operating expenses from the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Northeastern Illinois.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates for the Douglas Branch Reconstruction project are considered reasonable. However, CTA did not provide definitive documentation to evaluate escalation rates or provisions to address cost overruns or proposed funding shortfalls.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-Federal funding for the project is considered committed. The RTA has made available $99.1 million in state funding for the project, consisting of Series B Transportation bond revenues authorized in recent State legislation and proceeds from the state-supported Strategic Capital Improvement Program. RTA has committed $2.7 million in additional bond revenue.

New and Proposed Sources: No new funding sources are proposed for the project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the adequacy of existing operating revenues to continue operation of the Blue Line.

Agency Operating Condition: The operating condition of the CTA is sound. The CTA receives funding for operations from the RTA, including revenue generated from RTA’s dedicated sales tax, and recovers 45 percent of costs at the farebox. According to the CTA’s FY 1999 proposed budget, the agency expects to generate $411 million in revenue. This represents an increase of $6.3 million (1.6 percent) over the FY 1998 budget.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: CTA did not provide information on operating and maintenance costs specific to the Douglas Branch project, or escalation rates and contingency factors associated with the project. According to an analysis of projected systemwide operating costs, the proposed improvement will increase system costs by $3.1 million vs the No-Build alternative.

Existing and Committed Funding: No project-specific operations and maintenance plan was submitted for the Douglas Branch line. However, the proposed improvement will increase annual systemwide operating costs by $3.1 million, or less than one percent of CTA’s annual operating budget. CTA expects to receive $800 million in RTA sales tax, farebox, and additional revenues for system operations in FY 1999. Sales tax revenue is considered a reliable funding source since it responds to both growth in the economy and price level inflation.

New and Proposed Sources:No new funding sources are proposed for the operation of the Douglas Branch (Blue Line) project.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: §5309 New Starts $320.10 $4.92 million appropriated through FY 2000
Federal: §5307 Formula/CMAQ $28.80 N/A
State: Illinois DOT $99.10 N/A
Local: RTA Bonds $2.80 N/A
Total: $450.80

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

Douglas Branch Reconstruction Project Map, which shows the complete reconstruction of the approximately 6.6-mile length of the existing Douglas Branch of CTA’s heavy rail Blue Line that extends from a point just west of downtown Chicago to its terminus at Cermak Avenue. The eleven proposed rail stations are (from east to west): Polk, 18th St, Hoyne, Western, Kedzie, California, Central Park, Pulaski, Kildare, Cicero, and 54th St/Cermak.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact