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O’Hare Multi Modal Facility Will Make Taking Metra to the Airport More Convenient

The Multi Modal Facility. Photo: city of Chicago

The Blue Line is the most obvious train route to O'Hare, and there's been plenty of hype about erratic tech mogul Elon Musk's scheme to dig a tunnel to the airport for luxury express service using hypothetical "electric sled" technology. But a lesser-known way to get to O'Hare is Metra's North Central Service, which drops passengers off at the O'Hare Transfer station, on the northeast side of the airport. The train runs only ten times a day on weekdays, and it doesn't run on weekends, and until now you've had to ride a shuttle bus to a station for the O'Hare people mover train (which transports travelers between the terminals) in order to reach the airport. So Metra hasn't been a particularly convenient option for accessing O'Hare.

However, the transition from Metra to the airport just got a little smoother thanks to the new Multi Modal Facility that opened next door to the O'Hare Transfer station today. The new facility consolidates rental car operations and private car parking, and it will eventually become a hub for bus service as well. The 2.5 million square-foot building houses 13 rental car companies and will be getting a food and beverage concession next year. The city argues that it will reduce traffic in and around the terminals.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aviation chief Jamie Rhee tour the new facility. Photo: city of Chicago
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aviation chief Jamie Rhee tour the new facility. Photo: city of Chicago
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aviation chief Jamie Rhee tour the new facility. Photo: city of Chicago

With the opening of the Multi Modal Facility, there's now 24/7 shuttle bus service between the terminals and the facility every five minutes on average, according to Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Lauren Huffman. That means that Metra travelers can just catch one bus from the Metra stop to the airport, rather than a shuttle plus the people mover. Best of all, the people mover service will be extended to the new facility in 2019, so Metra riders will be able to catch a train instead of a bus to their terminal. (In addition, next year Pace will add a bus stop at the Multi Modal Facility and regional bus lines will also stop there, according to Huffman.)

That's not to say that the transition from Metra to the people mover will be seamless. 2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins told the Chicago Tribune that he's disappointed that there's no obvious pedestrian connection between the O'Hare Transfer station and the Multi Modal Facility. Hopkins said he plans to introduce legislation calling for a better pedestrian route between the facilities, such as a new sidewalk.

The Multi Modal Facility project, including the extension of the people mover, is costing $841 million. This project was partially financed with a $272 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act secured from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2013. According to the city, no local tax dollars were used.

On the down side, the Multi Modal Facility is adding more car parking to the airport, with a new Parking Lot F including over 2,600 parking spaces, which will encourage more people to drive to catch their planes. The facility also features 12 electronic charging stations, two rooms for breastfeeding and changing babies, a service animal relief area; a green roof. The CDA is seeking LEED certification for the facility, which would be highly ironic for a project with so many parking spots.

The Multi Modal Facility was designed by TranSystems along with subcontractor Carol Ross Barney Architects; and executed by Austin Powers Partners, a joint venture made up of Austin Commercial, Power Construction, and Ujamaa Construction. The facility is part of a larger project to modernize O'Hare, including the $8.5 billion terminal expansion, the largest in the airport’s history.

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