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Emanuel administration fleshes out downtown bus rapid transit

Updated: September 25, 2012 8:29PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Tuesday fleshed out details of the mayor’s $24 million plan to bring bus rapid transit to downtown Chicago.

Deputy Transportation Commissioner Luann Hamilton talked turkey while testifying before the City Council’s Housing Committee on an ordinance authorizing the city to acquire a surface parking lot near Union Station to build an “intermodal transportation center.”

The bus center is viewed as a precursor to bus rapid transit.

“The Central Loop bus rapid transit component will include: tinted bus priority lanes on Washington, Madison, Canal and Clinton; BRT stations with level boarding; enhanced bus lane enforcibility; signal priority for buses at key intersections; a branded, enhanced urban circulator bus service between the commuter rail stations and Navy Pier; video screens with Bus Tracker and other travel information, and improvements for pedestrians and cyclists,” Hamilton said.

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 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.

Hamilton pegged the cost of the “urban circulator project” at $24 million. Eighty percent of that pricetag will come from federal funds already received, Hamilton said.

The $7.3 million transportation center — with space to accommodate a dozen buses at a time — would be built on a pair of parcels located on the south side of Jackson between Canal and Clinton. The site — to be acquired, either through a negotiated sale or condemnation, if that fails — is located adjacent to an existing Amtrak garage, which will remain.

A 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.

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