Union Station Plan Moves Forward and Megabus is Moving Pick-Up Locations

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Union Station serves 120,000 riders each day. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

It looks like plans to renovate Union Station are on track. On Wednesday, City Council passed an ordinance that will move the Union Station Master Plan forward by authorizing an intergovernmental agreement between the Chicago Department of Transportation, Metra, the Regional Transportation Authority, and Amtrak.

The ordinance paves the way for the use of up to $500,000 of Chicago’s tax increment financing money to fund preliminary engineering and design work for the station. In addition, Metra is committing $1 million to the project, Amtrak is providing $3 million, and $1.5 million is coming from the RTA.

The city, Amtrak, Metra, RTA, and other stakeholders are collaborating on short-term improvements to Union Station that will increase passenger capacity by renovating and expanding the concourse and platforms. The project will also address safety, wheelchair accessibility, and general mobility issues at and around the station, according to the mayor’s office.

Passage of the ordinance comes weeks after President Obama signed into law the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, aka the FAST Act. The bill expands the Railroad Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Financing program, which could be a key source of funding for the Union Station Master Plan, a long-term plan to redevelop the station and surrounding area.

“The ordinance approved today by the City Council represents an important step forward for our ambitious plan to modernize Union Station,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. “We want to improve the experience for everyone who travels through Union Station and tap the potential that the station has to serve as an anchor for further economic development of the West Loop and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Amtrak recently issued a Request for Information from real estate developers asking for proposals to redevelop the Amtrak-owned station and surrounding land parcels. The passenger rail service is also in the process of hiring consultants to conduct planning, historic review and preliminary engineering work for the short-term term improvements to the station that are outlined in the master plan.

The design work will determine how best to widen platforms and corridors that often operate at or beyond their design capacity during peak times. It will also develop plans for adding elevators, escalators, and/or stairs from the widened platforms to street level and creating new pedestrian tunnels to the Ogilvie Transportation Center and the Blue Line Clinton Station.

The consultants will also prepare design plans for improving access to Union Station’s passenger terminal, including the Great Hall waiting room, which features a 110-foot-high ceiling with a barrel-vaulted skylight. The addition of a passenger elevator at the Canal Street entrance will improve wheelchair accessibility.

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A new Megabus passenger pick-up area will replace an existing parking lot located under I-290, just west of the Clinton Blue Line station entrance. Image: Google Street View

A second ordinance approved by the City Council Wednesday will help make Canal Street less chaotic by allowing Megabus to relocate its passenger pick-up area, currently situated on Canal south of Union Station, to an off-street site. The new boarding location will be underneath I-290, on the west side of Clinton Street. This state-owned land is currently being used as a parking lot.

The ordinance allows all rights and obligations for the space to be passed on to Megabus, allowing the company to make improvements to the dismal space under the highway. The intercity bus company will be responsible for all related expenses.

The new Megabus boarding location will be next door to the Clinton Blue Line stop, and two blocks south of Union Station, as well as the upcoming Union Station Transit Center. This CTA bus boarding area is currently under construction at the southwest corner of Canal and Jackson Boulevard and slated for completion this year as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor.

Moving the CTA bus boarding area off of Canal will also help make the street more orderly. In addition, CDOT recently removed an existing conventional bike lane on Canal and replaced it with a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton. Canal will also be getting a red bus-only lane later this year.

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  • High_n_Dry

    Progress. It is refreshing to read this. It will be interesting to see how moving the Amtrak tracks to the west and utilizing the Great Hall works out.

    Also, Hertz, the only car rental company in Union Station, finally got an office space. Before they just had a kiosk.

  • barracho

    Wait…the state has GIVEN land to megabus?!!!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It’s not clear whether or not Megabus will be paying rent. I’ll look into this.

  • GA

    Glad Megabus is getting pushed under the highway. They weren’t paying rent to screw up the streets and sidewalks on the south side of Union Station so if giving away what would be a really modest rent to begin with solves that problem so be it.

  • barracho

    WHAT??? I could house 500 taxpaying homeless people there!!!

  • Chicagoan

    Stop using all caps. No one is going to take you seriously.

  • Chicagoan

    I thought I read that Union Station was supposed to have an announcement regarding retailers in those empty spaces by now.

    I think a Mariano’s/Whole Foods would do great there, and a classic, “old Chicago”-type bar would do great as well. A restaurant would do well, too. The area is going to get a lot more residents in the years to come.

  • Roland Solinski

    I highly doubt the state is giving away ownership. It’s probably a ground lease with access rights for IDOT to maintain the expressway structure.

    Arguably Megabus is a better use of land than a private parking lot. The new location may not be fancy but at least it will be sheltered from rain and snow, and has ample room for waiting. Who knows, they might even put in some benches and signage.

  • barracho

    “all rights and obligations” is not a lease, it’s a sale

  • barracho

    THAT WAS NOT ALL CAPS.

  • barracho

    Arguably a homeless shelter is a better use of state land than a megabus depot, ESPECIALLY if they aren’t paying for it.

  • Dennis McClendon

    AFAIK, Megabus does not have any off-street facilities, nor pay any fees, anywhere in the US.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Hey folks, please keep the discussion civil. Thanks.

  • neroden

    My God, they’re actually making progress on this. I’m so pleased.

    (It had gotten to the point where I didn’t think anything would be done in my lifetime.)

  • Roland Solinski

    Only in a sense. In several cities, including DC and New Orleans, the city gov’t has mandated that Megabus use existing public bus terminals instead of curbside. The DC one is especially nice, with sleek modern ticket kiosks and a heated waiting area.

    I doubt the new Chicago facility will be anywhere near that fancy, but I’m sure it will have some signage and a series of bus bays for service to different cities. Maybe a few benches and a small ticket kiosk or TVM for last-minute travelers or those without a computer.

  • Roland Solinski

    No, it’s just a bit of legalese. Possibly Megabus is taking over the lease of the space from the parking lot operator. In that case, Megabus would be assuming “all rights and obligations” from the original lease.

  • barracho

    That’s not what the article said.

  • Cameron Puetz

    They’re paying rent at their stop in Coralville, Iowa. Since Coralville managed to get rent as part of a package to lure Megabus from a neighboring city, I suspect that a stop like Chicago that’s important to drawing passengers could have negotiated some rent.

    http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/business/megabus-comples-move-to-coralville-20150817

  • Chicagoan

    There’s been incremental progress. They replaced the warped-beyond-belief marble stairs in the Great Hall, sourcing the marble from the original quarry outside of Rome (nice touch, Amtrak). Re-thinking where buses queue has been sorely needed. Now, if only they could fill the empty retail spaces. This place is crying out for a bar!

  • LD

    The marble was not warped. It was worn after 94 years of foot traffic.

  • Chicagoan

    It was just a figure of speech.

  • planetshwoop

    Having something similar to the market under Metra’s Olgilvie station would be nice. It’s arguably better placed at Union than Metra.

  • ConcernedResident

    Is there any update on the Megabus situation? I am a resident in the neighborhood of the proposed Megabus stop under the highway. A lot of residents are concerned about the changed stop location, due to the increased traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian. Also, do you know if there will be restrooms available to the Megabus patrons? Or will they be knocking on our doors to come inside and use ours? I walk by the current Megabus stop on my way to and from work each day, and I am also concerned about the amount of trash that is left behind by Megabus passengers. One other question – currently the proposed Megabus stop has a lot of zoned parking available to the residents, will we lose zoned parking spots?

  • planetshwoop

    You need to call your alderman about this. Streetsblog likely won’t have answers and the Alderman can actually work with the company to incorporate neighborhood concerns.

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