City Wants Nearly $1 Billion Facility Linking Metra Rail With O’Hare [updated]

Chicago, Illinois - August, 2012 - 005a

The City of Chicago has unveiled ambitious plans for a $884 million transportation hub next to O’Hare International Airport.

In order to make it a reality, the city needs a $242 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Considering that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in town last week to announce that the city is welcome to apply for the money, there’s a pretty good chance it will happen.

If completed, it will house a car rental center, 2,000 public parking spaces, and a train station on Metra’s North Central line.   With fewer stops than the Blue Line, so presumably faster service, this would be huge for West Loop and Loop businessmen, and people visiting downtown Chicago on one-day business trips.

Currently, the CTA Blue Line from the Clinton station to O’Hare takes a minimum of 46 minutes with 20 stops.  From Chicago Union Station to the proposed new O’Hare station would take 30 minutes with only six stops.

You can read the press release from the mayor’s office after the diagram of the facility.  Click to embiggen.

Diagram of the proposed O'Hare International Airport transportation facility

Diagram of the proposed O’Hare International Airport transportation facility

Mayor Emanuel and Secretary LaHood Announce Next Steps Towards Financing For the Construction of an Intermodal Facility at O’Hare International Airport

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the City of Chicago has been formally invited by USDOT to apply for a federal loan that would authorize $292 million in funds enabling the construction of an intermodal facility at O’Hare International Airport.

“O’Hare is one of our City’s key economic engines and by utilizing innovative Federal financing, we are ensuring that we build the infrastructure Chicago needs to succeed economically in the 21st Century,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The new intermodal facility will provide a more operationally efficient and sustainable facility, spurring economic growth and building upon continued efforts to make O’Hare the most convenient international hub in the world.”

A Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan of $292 million, in combination with previously issued and authorized general airport bond revenues would make available the funds to finance an $884 million multi-modal development project that would consolidate rental car functions as well as public parking into a multi-level structure and provide for an extension of the Airport Transit System (ATS) at O’Hare. The new facility would lead to the creation of approximately 3,000 design and construction jobs during construction and upon completion 100 concession and rental car positions would be created by leasing and concession agreements made by the Department of Aviation and participating rental car companies.

“President Obama has called on us to rebuild and upgrade our infrastructure so travelers and businesses can get where they need to go safely and efficiently,” said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “O’Hare plays a critical role in the transportation system for the region, and we are pleased to invite the City of Chicago to apply for a TIFIA loan to improve mobility and sustainability around the airport.”

“TIFIA loans are a smart way to boost both our country’s economy and infrastructure, and Chicago has taken the lead in putting them to work for the city,” said Senator Durbin. “This rental car consolidation facility and people mover extension will benefit both Chicago residents and the millions of travelers who pass through O’Hare every day, making the airport easier to navigate while creating local jobs and providing further opportunities for economic development in the area. That high return on investment is why I have long supported important transportation projects like the O’Hare Modernization Project and why I will continue to do so.”

In moving rental car companies out of dispersed locations and investing in the ATS, the CRCF central location will lead to greater transportation relief, efficiency and sustainability. The extension and creation of a new ATS station will for the first time provide a major access point for travelers to and from O’Hare by enhancing transportation connectivity between rental cars, public parking, public roadways, CTA and Metra. These measures as well as expanding the ATS vehicle fleet will reduce vehicle traffic at terminal curbs, eliminate an estimated 1.3 million vehicle trips on terminal roadways each year, resulting in enough energy savings to power over 600 homes every year and in turn lessen O’Hare’s environmental impact for all travelers and Chicagoans.

“This project will be one of the largest capital improvements ever constructed at O’Hare and will be among the largest airport developments underway in the U.S.,” said Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino. “It will provide multiple benefits to O’Hare travelers, the airport and the region. The center meets the CDA’s mission to provide the very best services and amenities, enhance economic activity and job creation, make O’Hare more competitive, and a model for environmental sustainability.”

The proposed CRCF will provide nearly 4,100 rental car company parking spaces, utilizing the floors one through three, a customer lobby on a portion of the fourth with remaining space and floors designed for approximately 2,000 public parking spaces. Each of the rental car companies operating within the CRCF will have exclusive-use customer service counters, self-service kiosks, and back office areas within the facility

TIFIA provides credit assistance for qualified infrastructure projects across the country, and is designed to fill market gaps and leverage other investment by providing capital. It is intended for infrastructure projects of regional or national significance and due to the flexibility of the program, many qualified, large-scale projects that might otherwise be delayed or tabled can move forward quickly, providing an immediate boost to jobs while laying the foundation for continued economic growth.

Last fall, the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) initiated the process for submitting an application to receive the TIFIA loan assistance. The Chicago City Council authorized the loan agreement on June 5, 2013. The agreement agreed upon by the Chicago City Council will enable the Commissioner of Aviation to execute lease and license/concession agreement with each participating rental car company. It will also allow the Commissioner to negotiate and execute lease agreements with On-Airport Rental Car Companies for the purposes of developing maintenance facilities, providing rental car storage and related uses on property at O’Hare.



Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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  1. Looks like folks arriving on Metra will have to walk through the entire garage and then board the Airport Train to go to the terminals. This is not much faster than CTA.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      I think it depends on your starting and ending points, and also where the airport train drops you off. By the looks of it, it seems like it will actually be a shorter trek through this parking garage than the one between the CTA Orange Line and the entrance to Midway Airport.

      At O’Hare, sometimes you get lucky and the terminal you need is right in front of you when you get off the subway. Sometimes you have to hoof for quite a long way to get to your terminal, depending on the airline you’re using. Maybe if you come in by Metra, the airport train will drop you right in the terminal you need. We’ll have to see when the detailed plans come out.

      I’m more concerned with luggage. I have a hard enough time hauling myself up the steps onto a Metra train. I can’t imagine doing it with a couple of pieces of rolling luggage and a carry-on.

      Post a Reply
  2. wrong metra line/stop. this will replace the current F long term lot, which is adjacent to the O’Hare Transfer stop on the NCS line. MD-W Mannheim stop is close to O’Hare, but is not where this facility will be.

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  3. I do wonder about capacity problems at Union Station. The station’s north tracks, used by North Central Service and both Milwaukee District lines, may not be quite as busy as the south tracks, but it’s my recollection that all tracks are in use during rush hours. If the proposed service is to be of much use to airline passengers, it will require much more frequent schedules than the present handful of North Central trains; how are they going to be accommodated once they get downtown?

    Also, if this goes through, it probably means that the already-constructed shell of the airport rapid transit terminal under Block 37 will remain a permanent white elephant. This was designed expressly for CTA service to both O’Hare and Midway, and I can’t see it fitting into CTA operations in any other capacity.

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    • Editor

      I don’t see capacity being a problem for two reasons. Union Station is currently operating at only a fraction of what it did back in the 50’s and 60’s.

      As for baggage, that shouldn’t be a problem. I remember from the last round of Union Station redesign plans that the station has massive excess baggage capacity because it doesn’t handle the mail anymore. Part of the Union Station renovation involved demolishing entire baggage platforms because they were no longer needed. The demolished platforms would make room for through-tracks for high speed rail.

      If I recall correctly, on certain long-distance trains the passengers loaded and unloaded on one side of the train, while baggage and mail loaded on the other. The times I’ve taken the Empire Builder out to the west coast, I don’t remember seeing any baggage (Woo hoo! Six checked bags for free! Suck it, Every Airline!) mingling with the passengers on the left side of the train.

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  4. Union Station operates more commuter trains now than it did in the 1950s or 1960s. Intercity trains are a fraction of the total they once were. Also, this extension of the ATS was part of the original plan when Matra first built the system over 20 years ago. The city ran out of funding to extend it to its logical terminus east of Mannheim Road. Using the NCS Metra line would afford trains to continue south at Franklin Park onto the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad and potentially connect to Midway Airport which would allow for the first-ever public transit between the two airports. Ideally, using the NCS line would also allow some first-ever opportunities including DMUs (Diesel Multiple Units) to operate on the freight-only joint CP/UP line to bring northern suburban riders to O’Hare and also have an upgraded express track on the MDW-West line for more rapid connections to O’Hare. The city needs greater connectivity than the Blue Line and there is potential here for a number of improvements and connections. Once again, time to think and action in a Burnham-like fashion.

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