Use caution with Union Station redevelopment

IMG_0043Guest commentary: Union Station is key element in Crossrail plan for unified, regional rail service

By Alan Mammoser

Historic Union Station, with grand columns and Great Hall, stands solemnly in the West Loop as is has for nearly a century. But the old station is in the news a lot lately. Recently, Amtrak and Mayor Emanuel announced a $1 billion plan to redevelop this relic of railroading’s golden age. They foresee a new hotel and condos atop the Great Hall, and new towers on adjacent blocks.

It’s an impressive plan that should generate revenue for the city and Amtrak. But it misses the big picture. The big picture for Union Station is much more than a real estate deal. The big picture includes not just the Great Hall but extends across Canal Street to the Concourse. It’s there, in the tracks beneath a nondescript 1960s-era office tower, that the key to revolutionizing Chicago-area transit lay.

Any plan to enhance Union Station’s real estate values should also recognize that its redevelopment can transform Chicago-area transit. Done properly, this plan will give Chicago a world class rail system, one fit for a global city. Done improperly, it could compromise the irreplaceable transportation jewel that Union Station is.

The plan announced in May shows no sense of the need to upgrade the rail network beneath the streets, where Amtrak and Metra face limited space to serve a growing ridership. Worse, its massive scale actually threatens future transit improvements, because its big towers sit directly…

Metra hikes CEO’s pay

Just one month after raising fares an average of 5.8 percent, Metra’s board of directors Wednesday awarded a 9.7 percent pay hike to Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno based on what they termed his outstanding job performance.

Orseno’s annual salary rises to $317,500 from $289,500, retroactive to Oct. 1. It’s the second pay hike for Orseno in just over a year; he received a 10 percent increase in September 2015.

Metra board members said the higher salary was “market-based” in comparison with the railroad industry and that Orseno “exceeded performance expectations” in his annual review. Officials said Orseno also earns less than his counterparts at comparable public transit agencies on the East and West Coasts.

Metra Chairman Norman Carlson said Orseno tallies 60-65-hour workweeks, and cited Orseno’s 42-year railroad career, including early work as locomotive engineer, and the last 36 years at Metra.

“We are lucky to have him,” Carlson said.

By comparison, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. is paid $239,112 a year, according to the Better Government Association’s public payroll database.

In addition to running Metra, Orseno has leadership positions with national public transportation and commuter rail organizations, Carlson said.

Orseno took charge of Metra in the wake of the board’s controversial ouster of former Executive Director Alex Clifford in 2013.

Fare increases that will take effect on February 1, 2017 include an additional 25 cents on one-way tickets; an additional $2.75 on 10-ride tickets; and an additional $11.75 on monthly passes.

Metra also announced that Uber would pay Metra $900,000 over three years to be the agency’s “official rideshare partner.”

In return, Metra…

trackwork

Civic group: Boost gas tax for transportation

By Richard Wronski

An influential Chicago think tank/planning organization is urging the state’s gas tax be increased by 30 cents per gallon. Here are four reasons why:

  • Experts say Illinois needs to invest $43 billion over 10 years to improve roads, bridges and rail lines and tackle a maintenance backlog.
  • Estimates say motorists are already wasting more than that amount on vehicle repairs due to poor roads; time lost in congestion; and loss of population and jobs to neighboring states.
  • The state’s gas tax, currently at 19 cents per gallon, hasn’t been raised in 25 years.
  • The gas tax hike, along with an accompanying 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees, would cost the average person $12.25 a month, or $147 a year. That’s about one  lunch tab a month or a Netflix charge, the argument goes.

The recommendation to begin “an honest conversation” on hiking the gas tax came Monday from the Metropolitan Planning Council, an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit civic group. MPC’s board consists of many movers and shakers from Chicago banks and businesses.

MPC issued a detailed analysis (http://metroplanning.org/transportation) of its proposal, which it said it compiled after a year’s worth of discussions with transportation officials and other experts.

It’s not the first call for an increase in the state’s gas tax to pay for transportation needs, either by the MPC or others. Just over a year ago, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, an aggregation of interest groups ranging from labor unions to truckers to local chambers of commerce, urged an unspecified increase in the gas tax along with a…

Something new for Chicago

Hello, Chicago. This marks the debut of a new source of information for the millions of Chicago area residents and businesses who must get around the metropolitan area each day, whether by car, bus or train (and bike, too). Just a few years ago, there were at least five reporters working for Chicago newspapers and radio stations whose “beat” was transportation and who provided this information. Not any more.

While those beats have disappeared, the news has not. Chicagoans still need to know the best ways to get around. They need to know how their expressways and tollways are being managed and maintained. They need to know if their buses and trains are operating properly and on time. They need to know who runs the transit agencies, and why those officials make the decisions they do. They need to how their tax money and fares are being spent. They need a watchdog.

The Chicago Transportation Journal’s goal is to address those needs. We’ll do so by providing in-depth coverage of issues unavailable elsewhere. For example, if your bus or train is consistently late, we’ll tell you why and what’s being done to fix the problem. We’ll delve into the decision-making behind the policies and actions taken by transportation agencies. We’ll also provide a forum for transportation users, providers and experts. We welcome other voices.

Transportation is a multibillion-dollar industry, and Chicago is the transportation hub of the nation. All the major freight railroads, Amtrak, and many of the key interstate highways pass through the region. We have two of the nation’s busiest airports, O’Hare and Midway. This site also hopes to keep an eye on the freight rail, trucking and aviation industries, areas not covered by other media.

The Chicago Transportation Journal is making a…