Tom Weisner made impact on Chicago railroads and tollways

Many are praising Tom Weisner, the former mayor of Aurora who passed away recently at the age of 69 and who was remembered at a memorial service Monday for his leadership of Illinois’ second-largest city. But the obituaries written about him failed to adequately relate three instances in which his steadfast and principled conduct had an impact on the region and even the nation.

Having covered transportation for the Chicago Tribune, I witnessed Weisner’s years as a director on the Illinois State Toll Highway Board. I also reported extensively about Weisner’s efforts, along with those of Barrington Village President Karen Darch, as both co-chaired a coalition of suburbs who fought against the Canadian National Railway’s purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad. This coalition subsequently focused attention on the potential danger posed by the shipment of crude oil by trains

These efforts began in 2007 when CN announced it would pay $300 million to acquire the EJ&E, at that time a lightly used regional line that skirted the metropolitan area. It was a bold move for CN, which was then run by the late E. Hunter Harrison, whose reputation as a hard-nosed, bottom-line-focused CEO would continue to grow in later stints at Canadian Pacific and CSX railroads.

The deal, which CN said would “fill the last gap” in its trans-Chicago network, was designed to allow its freight trains to bypass Chicago’s highly congested rail network. It took a CN train longer to get…

Planning agency’s ‘vision’ eyes more tolls

Does the Chicago area lack a “vision” for its expressway system?

Will more tollways or so-called “managed lanes” be part of that plan?

Yes, says the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, a low-profile public agency responsible for broad-scale land use and transportation planning decisions across the seven counties of Northeastern Illinois.

That vision, CMAP says, “will chart a bold, long-term course for the region’s expressway system” to guide future projects and spending by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway.

For too long, CMAP says, the Chicago area has struggled to maintain and modernize its expressways “in the face of persistent funding gaps” and growing congestion. Delays cost the region $7 billion a year in lost productivity and fuel. New ideas and a fresh approach to mass transit are needed.

In announcing the project Thursday, CMAP Executive Director Joseph Szabo said the planning agency was asked by the heads of IDOT and the Tollway to take a “more comprehensive and holistic” approach to the region’s highway management and planning.

Instead of just looking at improving individual tollways or expressways, for example, the CMAP vision will include recommendations for specific 10-15-mile stretches, or “corridors.”

Beyond that, the vision as outlined has no specifics at this point. Those will come later, officials said. But for now, CMAP has set three goals:

First, to support the region’s economy by promoting long-term growth, improving truck freight movement and making the system “financially sustainable.”

Second, to enhance operations with “game-changing” mass transit improvements and preparing for automatic vehicles and new communication technology.

And third, to better manage…

Rauner pushes plan for tolls on I-55

By Richard Wronski

Chicago Transportation Journal

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to end the political bottleneck in Springfield have stalled so far, but he might have better luck with a new proposal to ease the chronic traffic jams on the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55).

Flanked by state legislators from both parties, Rauner on Thursday announced support for a plan to widen 25 miles of I-55 with so-called “managed lanes.”? Under the concept known as congestion pricing, these lanes would be tolled, depending on the amount of traffic, and could be used by carpoolers.

Rauner called for exploring a so-called Public Private Partnership, or P3, between the Illinois Department of Transportation and private investors to develop the project.? The investors would provide the funding,?estimated at $425 million. In return, the investors would recoup toll revenue for construction, operations and maintenance.

“By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century,” Rauner said. “This is an innovative project that will create jobs, improve the region’s quality of life and show that Illinois is open for business.”

Plans for adding tolled lanes to I-55 are not new. Transportation planners have advocated the managed-lane concept?for years. In December, Rauner’s transportation secretary, Randy Blankenhorn outlined the project at a public hearing in Countryside.

Still,…

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…