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Chicago ready to buy land near Union Station for bus rapid transit center

Artist rendering an evolving design for new UniStatiTransit Center from 2007 concept.  Work has recently begun final design how

Artist rendering of an evolving design for the new Union Station Transit Center from a 2007 concept. Work has recently begun on the final design how the facility might evolve into and finally look. Provided photo

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Chicago would acquire a surface parking lot near Union Station to build an “intermodal transportation center” needed to bring bus rapid transit to the Loop, under an ordinance to be introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The mayor’s plan would authorize the $5.9 million acquisition of a surface parking lot south of Jackson between Canal and Clinton for construction of a $7.3 million transportation center. Federal funding would cover 80 percent of the cost. The rest would come from funding generated by the local tax-increment-financing district.

Sheltered staging area for CTA buses would include a vertical connection to an existing Amtrak underground passageway. That would allow commuters to access the Union Station concourse crossing Canal and Jackson at street level.

Last month, a 76-year-old woman was killed by a Megabus outside Union Station.

“The new off-street transportation center will improve conditions for CTA passengers boarding at Union Station and transfers to and from Metra and Amtrak trains at the busiest railroad terminal in Chicago,” Emanuel said in a press release.

“It will relieve street congestion surrounding Union Station and improve safety by reducing pedestrian exposure to traffic at the busy Canal and Jackson intersection.”

Emanuel has talked about using revenue from the $2-a-day “congestion fee” imposed last year on downtown parkers to finance express bus lanes linking commuter rail stations to Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier.

The transportation center is viewed as a key component of that downtown system.

The first test of bus rapid transit will come this fall, when the city installs 16 miles of express bus lanes on Jeffery Boulevard that should give South Side CTA bus riders a faster commute to work.

Bankrolled by an $11 million federal grant, the new lanes are a scaled-down version of the Cadillac plan in four major corridors conceived in 2008 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Earlier this year, the city released a master plan for Union Station that identified ways to increase capacity and improve the passenger experience at the nation’s third-busiest railroad terminal.

Short-term projects included: improved station entrances; expanded Amtrak waiting rooms; enhanced bus lanes on Clinton and Canal Streets and construction of an off-street CTA bus terminal on a surface parking lot south of Jackson Boulevard between Canal and Clinton.

Projects that might be delivered in five-to-ten years included: reallocating space currently occupied by baggage platforms to make way for wider commuter platforms; converting “unused mail platforms” to accommodate “inter-city passenger trains;” reorganizing existing station facilities to “improve capacity and flow;” and rebuilding the Canal Street viaduct above parts of the station in a way that “improves street access” to the station concourse below.

Long-term ideas described as more “visionary” or pie-in-the-sky included: “expanding or completely replacing” Union Station in the 200 or 300 blocks of South Canal. The master plan also evaluated the concept of adding more “track and platform capacity in one of two alternative underground alignments: Clinton Street or Canal.”

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