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

The Multi Modal Facility. Photo: city of Chicago
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

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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  • planetshwoop

    Chicago is addicted to parking revenue, not the cars themselves.

  • what_eva

    How many spaces were in the old lot F? I think it was something similar.

    My question is what is the airport going to do with the land they’re taking back from the rental car companies?

    The combination of the new facility and the people mover extension will help a lot with traffic as there won’t be the hertz bus and the avis bus and the national bus and the enterprise bus and whatever others all running back and forth. Everyone needing a rental car just gets on the people mover.

    The service animal relief area and breastfeeding rooms seem odd to me because it’s not something people expect to be there. The same facilities exist in the airport proper. People inbound are likely to stop there not knowing about the facilities at the garage, while people outbound would probably prefer to get to the airport itself first. Oh wait, duh, there will be a decent amount of staff at the counters and in the garage with all those rental car companies…

  • Brian Sheehan

    Why isn’t there a branch of the people mover going to the Rosemont stop? It’s closer to that station than it is to the O’Hare Transfer stop, and would better serve people walking from the east.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Would that be more convenient than simply riding the Blue Line into the airport?

  • Tooscrapps

    I think he’s speaking of the Rosemont Metra stop on Balmoral.

    Brian, this was just an easier extension. This way it serves both the Metra/bus lines and the rental agencies. Two birds with one stone.

  • Cameron

    Is the bus center for CTA, Pace, or the intercity buses currently operating out of the old Terminal 4 space?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    “There’s no obvious pedestrian connection between the O’Hare Transfer station and the Multi Modal Facility” — wow, that is a bombshell! Isn’t the point that one can take Metra to the Transfer Station, then go to the MMF? How is one supposed to do this without a pedestrian connection? Does anyone know if Metra’s Transfer Station and/or the MMF has bicycle parking? If so, of what quality / convenience is that bike parking?

  • Cameron

    I can see the value of the breastfeeding rooms and service animal areas for travelers. For arriving passengers by the time they wait at baggage claim, ride the people mover, and wait at the rental car counter, it could have been awhile since they were in the terminal. It would be nice to use the facilities and get everyone situated before an unknown time in traffic driving in an unfamiliar city or beginning a bus trip. Similarly for departing passengers who knows how long they’ve been in traffic or on a bus, and they still need to ride the people mover, check bags, and clear security before using the terminal facilities.

    Travel is stressful, particularly the transitions between modes. It’s nice to have space and facilities to collect your group and take care of everyone’s needs before continuing to the next stage. These facilities aren’t hard to include in a new build, so there’s really no reason not to.

  • kevd

    The Blue line to O’Hare is actually pretty good.
    and at $5 extra to leave (and a normal fare to arrive at the airport), pretty cheap compared to other cities.
    On the other hand, Metra really is a joke.

  • mkyner

    More than that – the people mover should have an entire eastern loop along Balmoral, River Road, and Higgins, then connecting back to the new multi-modal facility. This would link the Stephens convention center, the outlet mall, a few hotels and office clusters, the casino, park area, CTA Rosemont station, Metra Rosemont and O’Hare stations, and the O’Hare terminals all on the same line.

  • what_eva

    Sure, but how many travelers will know the facilities even exist?

  • Cameron

    In the Tribune’s article on the Multi Modal Facility, Alderman Hopkins criticized it for not having a pedestrian connection to the Metra station despite the close proximity. Has anyone been out there to see what the walk is like or if there are any barriers?

  • The Blue Line may seem pretty good by US standards, but cheap is the word. You get what you pay for, and thus the Blue Line remains a sad affair, held together with spit and baling wire. A bumpy, noisy, smelly, drafty ride, chronically plagued by slow zones and delays (and only 14 out of 36 stations wheel chair accessible), is not something to look forward to for a traveler who has just spent 15+ hours in a plane (my experience yesterday). The present “Your New Blue” project seems to consist of little more than grossly overdue maintenance with a touch of cosmetics here and there, for roughly half the budget quoted above and taking forever. A missed opportunity, because sometimes—on a good day during rush hour—Blue lives up to its promise to be a remarkably faster and more convenient way to reach O’Hare (or other) than any of the other types of transportation available. One can only dream of what the Blue Line could be if the type of money described above would routinely be invested in developing and maintaining tracks, stations and rolling stock. The only alternative to the Blue Line should be a drastically improved Blue Line.

  • Mcass777

    Better yet, why not connect the ATS to the Rosemont Metra Station on Balmoral? Perhaps Rosemont helps pays for the connection if it connects all the way to the Rosemont Entertainment district which is just beyond the station.

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