No Central Loop BRT in 2014 as CDOT Delays Launch Indefinitely

11,000 people ride the J14 Jeffery Jump each weekday
The 11,000 people who ride the J14 Jeffery Jump daily, plus 20,000 on other bus routes, will have to wait until 2015 — or later — for a speedier trip through downtown.

Construction delays have pushed back the Central Loop BRT project, from a projected 2014 start until next year or even later. The causes of the setback remain troublingly vague, and there is no clear timetable for the improvements proposed for four downtown streets, which are supposed to speed up six Chicago Transit Authority bus routes with a combined ridership of 30,000.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA said that improved transit service would start in 2014, but the Sun-Times reports that construction has been delayed. While the Sun-Times said the project might proceed next year, the city is not providing a specific timetable.

CDOT and CTA plan to run the six routes via bus-only lanes on Canal, Clinton, Washington, and Madison Streets, so that bus riders won’t get slowed by congestion downtown. Combined with off-board fare collection at distinctive bus stations, along with priority at certain traffic signals, the improvements will reduce ride times across the Loop by 3 to 9 minutes. That would save a commuter going from Union Station to Illinois Center up to 75 hours over the course of a year.

As late as November, the plan was still to launch service this year. After CDOT acknowledged another Sun-Times report that water pipes under the proposed bus stations would have to be relocated, former commissioner Gabe Klein said (after he announced his resignation):

“As far as I know, the project will be done in December of 2014, just like it was supposed to be. You build in time for minor moves and changes. I’m not aware that there’s going to be a significant delay.”

The timeline began to slip one month ago, when CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said that construction would start this year but added that service wouldn’t start until 2015.

Now the timeline has been pushed back again. Scheinfeld told the Sun-Times the design is taking “longer than expected to complete” and that, as the paper put it, “the Emanuel administration is more interested in getting it right than rushing it through.” However, she did not give the paper a new construction timetable.

It’s good that CDOT says it won’t sacrifice quality to get shovels in the ground, but the lack of a specific project timeline is troubling. Without knowing when the project is supposed to get built, it’s hard to know whether the department is still committed to this important improvement to the city’s transportation system.

  • Any idea if the $24.6 million FTA Urban Circulator grant that’s paying for a majority of this project has a stipulation on when service must begin? I’ve tried searching previously, but couldn’t find anything.

    I’m starting to wonder if we’re in for a repeat of the city’s 2008 BRT plans, which never happened after the city failed to meet the grant requirements and lost out on $153.1 million.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    “What Klein did not mention — and what City Hall sources subsequently acknowledged — is that before the eight raised passenger boarding islands can be installed, the water mains beneath must be relocated to guarantee access to city crews in the event of a water main break.

    That will add six-to-10 weeks of construction time and driver inconvenience to a $32 million project that, the city anticipates, will be bankrolled by federal funds.” — Sun Times

    The city anticipates will be bankrolled by federal funds… Does this mean they don’t have the money for it yet? And is that part of the reason for the delay?

  • BlueFairlane

    Were I a betting man, I’d put money on the great BRT wars we’ve seen for the last year or so proving to be over nothing. I’m starting to think none of it’s going to get built.

  • cjlane

    “the city’s 2008 BRT plans”

    Part of that plan died when the meters were sold. Which was being negotiated before the 12/31/08 deadline for the BRT funds.

  • cjlane

    ” but refusing to elaborate upon what isn’t “right.””

    Handling of vehicle turns across the bus lanes (eg, right off of Madison onto LaSalle/Franklin/Wacker)? Not seen an actual proposal for that.

    Expect that several of the building owners don’t want the stop directly in front of their building–UBS and 3 First National both come to mind on Madison–but will have to suck it up eventually.

  • James

    I think it’s pretty obvious, the public reaction isn’t “right” here

  • Corn Dog Aficionado

    The Sun-Times headline says 2015. How is that indefinite?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Its indefinite if you don’t have the money to pay for it.

  • Corn Dog Aficionado

    Better call in a favor from Dick Durbin.

  • From the article: “Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, said he’s not surprised that the timetable to bring bus-rapid-transit to the Loop has been pushed back indefinitely.”

    And: “Scheinfeld refused to say precisely how long the delay would last or whether it has anything to do with the construction complication disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times last fall.”

  • Unless something changed on the city’s end, the money is all accounted for.

  • Fred

    Construction postponed until after the 2015 Mayoral election. Then likely fast-tracked or cancelled.

  • rohmen

    The cynic in me is whispering in my ear that the real story here is that any BRT plans will be “delayed” until after the mayoral primary race has concluded.

  • rohmen

    Ha, I was typing my comment at the exact same time. Agreed.

  • The only information I could find was its Earmark ID on this document called “PRIOR YEAR UNOBLIGATED NEW STARTS ALLOCATIONS AS OF SEPTEMBER 30, 2011”.

    IL
    D2010-URBC-06001
    Chicago Urban Circulator
    $24,650,000

    http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/FY_2012_Table_13.xlsx

  • You are wise to pick that up.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    When the story says the city “anticipates”, it tells me the money is not in the bank yet.

  • Anne A

    I wonder if that’s one of the design complications.

  • Good catch.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I think the big hesitation is three-fold.

    One, though the money maybe promised, with the budgets in Washington not a sure thing, who really knows.

    Two, when you dig up streets downtown, they really don’t know what they are going to find and what it will cost. And not just the water/sewer lines. You have a whole raft of utilities in the streets, including phone, gas, electric.

    Three, there is no plan to bring businesses on board in terms of deliveries. If they want businesses to accept deliveries during non-peak hours, somebody has to do the outreach to them and get them on board. Because if you put a protected bike lane behind parked cars, a BRT lane, deliveries, and general auto traffic, you may end up giant clusterf**k.

    As far as I am concerned its a dreamy great project, but just like the Ashland BRT it lacks real accountability as to the how it is going to affect business.

  • Ryan G-S

    The water mains are not being moved because of BRT stations. The water mains are being rebuilt because they’re 100 years old, and they need to be replaced soon anyway. It obviously makes way more sense to replace them now, before you drop the BRT infrastructure in place on top of them.

    The unfortunate side-effect of this foresight is that it seems like the water work is itself somehow necessary for BRT stations or service. The Sun-Times seems to be running with this imagined boondoggle.

  • Can they at least stripe and enforce the bus-only lanes now? Get people used to them?

  • rohmen

    I largely agree that much is being made out of this considering the water mains would likely have to be replaced in the near future anyway due to their age.

    That said, however, the mains do still need to be moved to a new location in light of the BRT stations, as they need to be located where the City can gain access even after replacement, and their current location (aged or not) wouldn’t allow easy access after the BRT stations are built on top of them.

    Just replacing the aged water mains where they are located now at some point in the future, compared to having to both replace AND reroute the mains to accommodate the BRT project, would likely be a cheaper proposition. So, while I agree the sun-times is blowing the issue out of proportion, it’s true that the BRT project will add some additional costs to replacing the mains, even when you consider they’d have to be replaced some day anyway–not to mention requiring this section of mains to be prioritized for replacement, when other sections in the City might be in much, much worse shape.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    http://i.word.com/idictionary/unobligated

    Unobligated=appropriated but remaining uncommitted at end of period.

    I don’t think the money is there. Considering all the projects proposed by cta/cdot like all the really needed red line work, perhaps this is now a lesser priority.

  • cjlane

    The Madison ‘bus only’ lane has been so denoted for several years. Same with Dearborn.

    There is essentially zero enforcement, tho. And that ain’t changing, as there won’t be a CPD traffic detail assigned for that, unless the homicide rate drops dramatically, and the squawking on the northside about no cops can be rectified, too. Basically, smooth running of buses is not in the top 10 concerns of the CPD and at least 95% of Chicago voters agree with that.

  • I”m just saying, why not pilot unmanned enforcement methods on striped (by which I mean, plastic’ed green and so on to make it blatantly clear which pavement is reserved) lanes downtown? That way by the time the Ashland BRT comes in there are already procedures in place that are tested and known for keeping its lane clear.

    How do they enforce the Jeffrey Jump lanes?

  • cjlane

    “why not pilot unmanned enforcement methods”

    Not considered permitted under home rule authority–as evidenced by the abandonment of photo enforcement of street sweeping, the retroactive lobbying over the red light cameras (and ensuing litigation) and the going to Springfield for the speed cameras.

  • If we can have red light and speed cameras then Rahm can certainly lobby whoever he needs to to get laws passed to allow a motion-sensor camera pointed at the bus lane.

    Or give the parking meter folks a stake in it — they have manpower and the ability to issue tickets, right?

  • cjlane

    1. The lobbying effort for each required a (widely questioned) appeal to safety issues. (NB-I do NOT question the safety improvement). There isn’t a reasonable hook to safety with the bus lanes.

    2. They are *not* empowered to ticket for moving violations. Plus, that would requires another giveaway to the meter owners (bc we’d have to split the ticket revenue), which is totally radioactive.

    It’s all well and good to say “let’s try out this great idea”, but when it is not permissible under current law/contract, and there is a HUGE negative incentive for politicians to seek a change, it’s just not realistic.

  • Nathanael

    Hmm. This sparked my interest. In 2013, I find that there were 415 homicides, and 973 traffic deaths, in Chicago. Homicides are dropping and traffic deaths are rising.

    http://news.yahoo.com/2013-ends-big-drop-homicides-chicago-212612071.html

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-01/site/ct-illinois-traffic-deaths-met-20140101_1_jonathan-adkins-fatalities-traffic-deaths

    My conclusion: There should be twice as many police devoted to traffic safety as there are devoted to homicide.

  • cjlane

    Um,

    (1) that was 973 traffic deaths *STATEWIDE*. Not just in Chicago.

    (2) in that second link, it notes that as recently as 2004, the fatality count was over 1300, that the average in the 90s was 1500, in the 80s 1700, and was over 2,000 from 63 to 79. So, the statewide number has been FALLING.

    (3) Cook County (the whole county) in recent years makes up about a quarter of those fatalities.

    (4) The City only count appears to be about half of the County total, about 120.

    Therefore, by your logic, there should be about 4 times as many police devoted to homicides as there are to traffic safety.

    And, even at that, that would be an *extremely* politically unpopular position to take, bc

    (a) there are no national headlines calling Chicago the “traffic fatality capital” (note: bc we are not),

    (b) there is no obvious racial imbalance in the traffic fatalities, as there is with the homicides,

    (c) a meaningful % (something like half) of the traffic fatalities are ‘self-inflicted’ and people have little sympathy for that,

    (d) voters *hate* traffic tickets, and would suggest that cops focus on “real crime” so long as there still is “real crime” (note: homicide is definitely a ‘real crime’),

    (e) eliminating traffic fatalities via enforcement is as unlikely to happen as eliminating homicides, so the number of added cops to even come close to a level of traffic enforcement that would work would be prohibitively expensive.

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