Chicago, Illinois/Union-Pacific West Line Extension
Union-Pacific West Line Extension
Metra, the commuter rail division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of northeastern Illinois, is proposing an 8.5-mile extension to the existing 36-mile Union-Pacific West (UPW) Line – also known as the Central Kane Corridor project. Metra’s UPW commuter rail line currently provides service between downtown Chicago west to Geneva. The proposed project would extend trackage further west to Elburn, Illinois. The proposed project also includes multiple track and signal improvements, construction of two additional stations and parking facilities, construction of a new train storage yard, and the purchase of one diesel locomotive and eight bi-level passenger cars. The proposed extension will utilize an existing railroad track and right-of-way currently used by both Metra and the Union-Pacific freight railroad. The total estimated capital cost for the UPW Line extension and improvements is $142.1 million (escalated dollars). Metra estimates 3,900 average weekday boardings on the entire UPW line in the year 2020.
The overall project rating of Recommended is based on the strength of the project’s financial plan and the strong mobility improvements and environmental benefits that are anticipated for the UPW Line Extension. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 2000. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined.
In April 1997, Metra initiated a Major Investment Study (MIS) for the Central Kane 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 from the Central Kane Corridor to the
Chicago CBD. The MIS was completed in August 1998. Based on the results of the MIS, Metra selected Rail Alternative R1 as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). This project would provide for the extension of commuter rail service from Geneva to Elburn, Illinois on the UPW Line. The LPA was included in the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s (local Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2020 financially constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program in November 1997.
In December 1998, FTA approved Metra’s request to initiate preliminary engineering (PE) and the environmental review process of project development on the UPW Line Extension. Metra completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the UPW Line Extension in June 2000. FTA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on the EA in August 2000.
Section 3030(a)(13) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorizes the “West Line Extension” for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $16.44 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. N/A indicates that information for a specific criterion was not available. FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering.
JustificationThe Medium rating reflects the UPW Line’s strong mobility improvements and environmental benefits, while acknowledging the relatively low ratings for cost-effectiveness and transit-supportive land use.
Metra estimates 3,900 average weekday boardings and 2,700 daily new riders on the UPW Line Extension in the year 2020. Metra estimates the following annual travel time savings for the project:
Based on 1990 census data, there is one (1) reported low-income household within a ½-mile radius of the two proposed stations, representing 2 percent of the total number of households within a ½-mile of the proposed stations.
Northeastern Illinois is classified as being in “severe” nonattainment for ozone and is in attainment for carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM10). Metra estimates a slight increase in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) for the New Start versus the TSM. Metra estimates that in the year 2020, the proposed project would result in the following emissions reductions:
Metra estimates that the proposed project will result in the following decreases in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTUs):
Metra estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile in the year 2020 for the New Start, No-Build, and TSM alternatives.
Metra estimates the following cost effectiveness indices, comparing the proposed project to the No-Build and TSM alternative:
Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns
The Low-Medium land use rating reflects the marginally transit-supportive and low-density development that currently exists in the UPW Line Corridor, but acknowledges the proactive efforts being undertaken by Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Northeastern Illinois, and Kane County municipalities in coordinating station area development.
Existing Conditions: The existing Union Pacific West Line (Central Kane Corridor) connects rapidly developing communities west of Chicago with a major employment center in Chicago’s central business district (CBD). Development in the existing station areas along the line varies from rural towns to high-density residential and commercial uses. Downtown Chicago, which is a major destination for riders, contains high density, pedestrian and transit-friendly development. Land use in proposed station areas on the western end of the corridor is relatively low in density, or agricultural/rural in character. Major trip generators along the western part of the corridor include the Kane County Government Center, Judicial Center, Delnor Hospital, Charlestown Mall, Dupage County Airport (third busiest airport in Illinois), Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia and Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove. Low or medium-density single-family housing characterizes the majority of development in Kane County, although a significant amount of undeveloped land exists within the proposed and existing station areas.
Future Plans and Policies: At the regional, corridor and municipal level, population and job growth trends suggest continued rapid development throughout the study area. The outer suburbs in Kane County are expected to grow the most rapidly. The Elburn Land Use Plan seeks to avoid isolated pockets of development, while promoting the preservation of open space by accommodating compact development and higher densities, encouraging infill development within walking distance of the Elburn CBD, and limiting strip-commercial development. Within the plan, land has been set aside for a potential station. As part of Geneva’s Future Land Use and Development Policies, the municipality will encourage residential development and redevelopment that will provide diversity in housing types, including higher densities in the downtown area. The RTA has been very active in developing and sharing information about transit-oriented development through production of studies, workshops and reports, and has a grant program for supporting TOD initiatives. Growth management policies are discussed in several regional and county-level planning documents. However, these documents provide general non-binding recommendations for managing growth. With some exceptions, zoning regulations in corridor municipalities are generally designed to preserve the suburban and rural character of the communities.
Elburn has taken a proactive approach to parking policies within its CBD. The existing zoning ordinance allows joint or shared parking. Developments that can show that a parking facility is located within close proximity will be allowed a reduction in the required number of spaces. In addition to existing transit parking facilities, Geneva also has a remote parking lot that is connected to the station via a shuttle bus. The remote lot has a shared-parking agreement with a local church located approximately one mile from the station. Parking is free and the shuttle service is $0.50 per trip. Outside of Elburn and the City of Chicago, communities do not have existing policies in effect to limit parking supplies.
Local Financial Commitment
Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 38%
The project financial plan proposes to use $87.44 million (62 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, $21 million (15 percent) of Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) bonds backed by the State of Illinois, $32.5 million (23 percent) in Metra contributions, and $1.1 million from RTA and local governments.
Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan
The Medium-High rating reflects the soundness of Metra’s financial condition and the strength of the agency’s dedicated revenue sources. The rating also acknowledges the commitment of the majority of non-Section 5309 New Starts funds to the UPW Line Extension.
Agency Capital Financial Condition: Metra’s financial condition is strong. Metra has two revenue sources that are available for funding capital projects: a five percent fare increase, introduced in 1989 and dedicated to capital improvements, currently generates $9 million annually. In addition, Metra’s portion of the RTA sales tax revenues (collected in the six-county region) that exceeds Metra’s operating expenses is applied to capital improvements. In 1999, Metra’s share of the sales tax revenue totaled $208 million. Excess sales tax revenue, along with revenue generated from the five percent fare increase, provided a total of $39 million. Metra also plans to contribute approximately $32.5 million from the agency’s funding sources, including rolling stock contributions and capital fund contributions, to the construction of the UPW Line Extension. The remainder of the local share ($22.11 million) will be funded via the Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) and local government contributions.
Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Total capital cost estimates increased approximately 50 percent over the last year to reflect more definitive engineering analyses. Contingencies for the UPW Line Extension are budgeted at nine percent of the project’s total cost. These estimates are considered adequate given the project’s size and scope.
Existing and Committed Funding: Funds for the Union-Pacific West Line Extension are programmed in Metra’s five-year (FY00-FY04) capital program. The RTA has legislatively authorized the funds from the SCIP bond program.
New and Proposed Sources: No new funding sources are proposed for the UPW Line Extension.
Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan
The High rating reflects the strong operating condition of Metra. The rating also acknowledges the agency’s full commitment of the required operating and maintenance funding for the UPW Line Extension.
Agency Operating Condition: Metra is projecting system-wide operating budgets through the year 2001 that represent a 55 percent revenue recovery ratio for the agency. The agency’s 1999 Financial Report indicated that Metra had an operating loss, before depreciation, of $173.2 million (a 6.5 percent increase over the prior year’s operating loss). Metra received $215.1 million in tax revenue, which covered the operating deficit. Tax revenue grew at a slightly faster rate than the operating loss (6.6 percent over the previous year). Total operating revenues for the agency increased from $122.2 million to $128.1 million (a 4.9 percent increase).
Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $6.73 million in the opening year.
Existing and Committed Funding: Operating funds (sales tax revenues) for the UPW Line Extension are existing and committed. A statutory mandate requires Metra to fund operations with tax proceeds before funding capital improvements. The sales tax is considered a reliable funding source since it responds to growth in the economy and price level inflation.
New and Proposed Sources: No new operating revenues are proposed for the UPW Line Extension.