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Open ‘mayor’s road’ to McCormick Place to taxis: alderman

The McCormick Place Busway which stretches from 25th Street Lower Randolph has security gates entrances exits.  |  JessicKoscielniak~Sun-Times

The McCormick Place Busway, which stretches from 25th Street to Lower Randolph, has security gates at entrances and exits. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 24, 2013 6:18AM

A $43 million busway built to whisk conventioneers between downtown hotels and McCormick Place has turned into “the mayor’s road” and should be opened to taxicabs in exchange for a surcharge, Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said Monday.

Fioretti suggested turning the 2.5-mile busway into a money-maker after Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg lifted the veil on a shortcut politicians and contractors enjoy, but everyday Chicagoans know little or nothing about.

“If it’s a road primarily to service between hotels and McCormick Place, let the cabs use it. Charge them a surcharge. Make it easier for everybody. The conventioneers would love it. They don’t want to spend 20 minutes, 30 minutes going back and forth,” Fioretti said.

“Even if it’s $1 a cab, it could lead to millions of dollars. Cabdrivers would embrace it. It’s a quicker ride. They don’t have to put up with all the lights. Other than the few buses that use it, it’s very limited use. We should be opening it up.”

Fioretti said he has raised the idea with city planners in talks about the flow of traffic in and around McCormick Place and through the South Loop neighborhood he represents.

“I was told by some of the people in Planning that it was a good idea. But then, they came back and said, ‘No. It’s the mayor’s road.’ That’s what I was hit with,” he said without identifying the city planners by name.

Fioretti said when he argued that Chicago could not afford to maintain a “clout road” for VIP politicians, he was told there were “security reasons” for keeping the road closed to other vehicles. But he was never told precisely what those “security reasons” were.

The Emanuel administration said “alternative uses” for the McCormick Place busway would “need to be balanced with its intended public-safety use.”

But the mayor’s office did not dismiss the taxicab surcharge idea.

“Since Mayor Emanuel took office, he and his budget team have had an open-door policy and welcome any ideas anyone might have to balance the budget and avoid cutting critical city services,” the mayor’s spokesperson Kathleen Strand wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Strand noted that the 2014 budget process has “just begun” and that meetings with alderman are always a critical component.

“Ald. Fioretti is welcome to discuss this and any other idea he may have with the budget team in the coming weeks,” she wrote.

In Monday’s column, Steinberg talked about his ride with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on the road Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls the “Bat Cave” and Preckwinkle calls the “Magic Road.”

It is accessed only by those fortunate enough to be issued a plastic card that opens a steel gate to the busway that runs along Illinois Central right of way parallel to Michigan Avenue.

Built in 2002 by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the 2.5-mile roadway was billed as a speedy shortcut for conventioneers staying in downtown hotels and attending McCormick Place conventions.

As Steinberg noted, a trip that takes 25 minutes in traffic up Lake Shore Drive can be completed in just eight minutes.

But Fioretti said he has watched over the years as precious few charter buses take advantage of the busway, leaving the shortcut to VIPs.

When Steinberg did a little digging, he found that the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications issues access cards.

OEMC spokesperson Melissa Stratton said the cards primarily go to city maintenance workers, Art Institute employees using the museum’s loading dock, public-safety personnel and McCormick Place contractors “on a case-by-case basis.”

Steinberg said he also saw catering trucks using the busway while servicing a party at the Art Institute.

Although everyday Chicagoans are oblivious to the shortcut, McCormick place General Manager David Causton told Steinberg the shortcut is an “absolute asset” and a key, cost-saving selling point with conventions.

“It obviously makes getting here faster, which is part of a pleasant experience for the attendee. Plus we don’t have to have as many buses to move people because the buses can go quickly on the private road, so they carry more people in a shorter time. It’s a true time saver,” Causton said.
“It may not be well-known by locals that live here. But it is well-known in the industry. All of our customers take advantage of it.”

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