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Chicago, Illinois/Southwest Corridor Commuter Rail

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South West Corridor Commuter Rail

Chicago, Illinois

(November 1999)

(South West Corridor Map)


Metra, the commuter rail division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of northeastern Illinois, is proposing to construct 11 additional miles to an existing 29- mile corridor connecting Union Station in downtown Chicago to 179th Street in Orland Park, Illinois. The proposed project would extend commuter rail service from Orland Park southwest to Manhattan, Illinois. The proposed action also includes the construction of three miles of a second mainline track, two additional stations and parking facilities and multiple track, signal, and station improvements. In addition, two existing rail yards would be expanded, a third rail yard would be constructed, and several railroad bridges would be rehabilitated. Metra plans to purchase two diesel locomotives and 13 bi-level passenger cars. Finally, the proposed project also includes the relocation of the downtown Chicago terminal from Union Station to the LaSalle Street Station, also in Chicago. The total estimated capital cost for these South West Corridor improvements is $165.44 million (escalated dollars).

The South West Corridor is an 11-mile area located along either side of the Metra South West Service (formerly Norfolk Southern railroad) between the southwest side of Chicago and Orland Park in Cook County. The corridor also encompasses the central and southwest portions of Will County, including the former Joilet Arsenal property. The corridor includes the most significant hub of employment in the six-county northeastern Illinois region, namely, the Chicago Central Business District (CBD). Metra estimates 13,800 average weekday boardings, including 7,600 daily new riders, using the full South West Corridor line (including the 11-mile extension) in the year 2020.

South West Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Commuter Rail Line (extension, multiple line improvements)
11 miles, 2 new stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $165.50 million
Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE) $103.90 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $7.80 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 13,800 average weekday boardings
7,600 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating of Highly Recommended is based on the project’s strong cost-effectiveness and mobility improvements and the strength of the project’s capital and operating financing plans. 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 April 1997, Metra initiated a Major Investment Study (MIS) for the South West Corridor. The purpose of the MIS was to analyze the ability and cost effectiveness of various alternative investment strategies to serve the growing need for travel along the corridor to employment in the Chicago CBD. The MIS was completed in August 1998. Based on the results of the MIS, Metra selected the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) to be Rail Alternative R1, which provides for the upgrade of commuter rail service on the South West Corridor with an extension to Manhattan, Illinois. The LPA was included in the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s, (the local Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2020 Long-Range Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program in November 1997.

In December 1998, FTA approved the South West Corridor to initiate preliminary engineering and the environmental review process of project development. The PE/environmental review process is scheduled for completion in Summer 2000.

Section 3030(a)(12) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Southwest Extension [Metra]" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $4.69 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. For reporting purposes, criteria are reported for the "Existing Airport Improvements (EAI)" socio-demographic forecast scenario. Data from the EAI socio-demographic scenario was used to evaluate the proposed new start project against both the No-build and TSM alternatives. N/A indicates that information for a specific criterion was not available.

FTA has rated 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 strong cost- effectiveness and mobility improvements, as well as adequate transit-supportive land use.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: High

Metra estimates 13,800 average weekday boardings, including 7,600 daily new riders, on the

South West Corridor project in 2020. Metra estimates the following annual travel time savings for the South West Corridor:

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 5.60 million hours 6.10 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 844 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the affected existing and proposed stations. This represents six percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Northeastern Illinois is classified as being in "severe" nonattainment for ozone and is in attainment for carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM10). Metra reports a slight increase in volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions for the New Start compared to both the No-build and TSM alternatives. Metra estimates that, in the year 2020, the proposed project will result in the following emissions reductions:

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 175 annual tons reduction of 185 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 26 annual tons reduction of 30 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) increase of 27 annual tons increase of 26 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) No Change No Change
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 10,977 annual tons reduction of 12,401 annual tons

Metra estimates that the proposed project will result in the following decrease 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 143,953 million BTU reduction of 162,231 million BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

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

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile ($1997) $0.22 $0.22 $0.23

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium-High

Metra estimates the following cost effectiveness indices, comparing the proposed project to the No-Build and TSM alternatives:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $8.90 $8.60

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the current low-to-moderate density, single family residential land uses and the generally non-binding transit- supportive corridor policies that characterize most of the Southwest Corridor. However, the rating also acknowledges the proactive efforts of the local municipalities within the corridor (e.g., Village of Manhattan) in developing future transit-oriented development within the proposed corridor.

Existing Conditions: The South West Corridor covers an area generally defined by the Norfolk Southern Railroad, between Chicago and Orland Park, as well as the southwest portion of Will County. The northern segment of the corridor is largely built-out and includes Chicago’s central business district (CBD). The urbanized areas on Chicago’s southwest side and the older areas of Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Worth are also built-out to allowable densities. The population of the Southwest Corridor grew approximately 2 percent between 1980 and 1990. Most of this growth occurred in the southern half of the corridor (from the Palos area south). Growth of between 23 and 27 percent is forecast for the corridor between 1990 and 2020. Corridor employment is forecast to grow 28 to 30 percent in the period from 1990 to 2020, with employees increasing by 17 percent in the Chicago CBD and 56–64 percent in areas outside of downtown Chicago. A major trip generator in the corridor is the Chicago CBD (390,000 jobs). The Orland Square Shopping Mall and the Chicago Ridge Mall are within the corridor’s station areas. Major institutional uses include the Palos Community Hospital, the Christ Community Hospital, and several community colleges.

Future Plans and Policies: Manhattan Station is promoting development to preserve its historic and architectural character. The Village has a policy promoting an increase in the number of housing units within walking distance of all the community’s commuter rail stations. Higher density residential use is planned for the Southwest quadrant of the Orland Park/153rd Street station area. The Village has established separate streetscape and façade improvement programs for its Old Orland area. The Village is currently acquiring key parcels of land in the district to implement its plan. The Village’s Comprehensive Plan recommends the redevelopment of the Johnson Lumber Yard, adjacent to the station, to commercial use, using a neo-traditional, pedestrian- oriented focus. With the exception of the City of Chicago, current zoning ordinances for proposed and existing Metra stations do not support the increased development density or enhance demonstrably the transit-friendly character of station areas.


The Village of Manhattan has a strong comprehensive plan that seeks to balance growth and discourage sprawl-type development. The Manhattan station is located within an historic district. The land use component identifies three priority land use designations, which would allow varying intensities of development. These include greenbelt, low-density transition, and suburban living/shopping/employment. The low-density transition concept recommends creative land use planning techniques that will allow the clustering of homes away from the greenbelt, thereby preserving required open space. The Village of Orland Park anticipates that the area within its planning jurisdiction will be fully developed. The community’s plan emphasizes the need to strengthen neighborhoods by establishing distinctive housing environments with a unique character. An extensive network of open space in the corridor is proposed as part of the Orland Park plan.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 37%

The financial strategy for the proposed South West Corridor commuter rail project includes $103.86 million (63 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds and

$61.58 million (37 percent) in State and local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the sound financial condition of Metra and the agency’s positive dedicated revenue sources, and that most of the proposed non- Section 5309 New Starts share of project costs is committed.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: Metra is in good financial condition. The agency has two sources that are available for funding capital projects: a five percent fare increase, introduced in 1989 and dedicated to capital improvements; and the agency’s portion of the RTA sales tax revenues that exceed Metra’s operating expenses. In addition, in 1999, the Illinois legislature passed additional authorization for the Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) bond program in the amount of $1.3 billion, of which Metra’s share is $585 million.

An additional $300 million in RTA bonding authority was also included in the Illinois legislative package. Metra’s share of the bonding authority is $135 million.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates for the proposed South West Corridor commuter rail project are considered reasonable given the project’s size and alignment.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-Section 5309 New Starts funds are considered committed to the proposed project. Programmed resources include SCIP bond program revenues ($25.7 million); sales tax allocations ($33.1 million); and funding from participating municipalities ($2.8 million).

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed for the project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the strong operating condition of Metra (the third largest commuter rail system in the country). The operating and maintenance costs needed represent a minimal impact on Metra’s overall operations.

Agency Operating Condition: Metra is projecting operating budgets through the year 2001 that represent a 55 percent revenue recovery ratio. The South West Corridor project is anticipated to require an additional operating subsidy of $1.71 million (escalated dollars). This estimate represents a 0.8 percent increase in systemwide operating assistance requirements. Metra’s share of RTA’s sales tax revenues – for the Southwest Corridor - are projected to increase by approximately 0.4 percent during this time period.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $7.8 million (escalated dollars). Metra anticipates that the deficit will be covered through the RTA sales tax. Operating and maintenance cost escalation factors are reasonable.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the proposed project’s sources of operating funds (sales tax revenues) are existing and committed. Sales tax revenues, which are Metra’s primary source of non-operating revenue has been forecast – by an independent economic consulting firm – to grow at an annual rate of 4.5 percent through the year 2018. The sales tax is considered a reliable funding source since it responds to both growth in the economy and price level inflation. The project’s annual operating deficit of $1.71 million represents less than a one percent increase in systemwide operating assistance requirements. Metra anticipates that the deficit will be covered through the RTA sales tax.

New and Proposed Sources: No new operating revenues are proposed for the project.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $103.90 $4.71 million appropriated through FY 2000
State: SCIP Bonds $25.70 N/A
Local: Metra $33.10 N/A
Local: Municipality Contributions $2.80 N/A
Total: $165.50

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

Map depicting the Southwest Corridor in Chicago, Illinois.

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