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Key Infrastructure Projects

Calumet Sag Bicycle Trail

While some communities along the western end of the trail, such as Palos Heights, have existing trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, many of the other communities along the eastern end, including BurnhamRiverdale and Dolton, are towns with little, if any, trail infrastructure. Many of these suburbs have been severely hurt by not only this recession but by the closing of factories and steel mills decades ago. In September, for example, MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island laid off 120 workers, or about 10 percent of its staff. Hospital officials cited the recession and an increasing number of patients who couldn’t afford to pay their medical bills.

In addition, after years of neglect and industrial use, the Calumet River and Calumet-Sag Channel aren’t exactly known for their natural beauty, as many factories operated along the waterfront, often leaving a toxic footprint behind in a waterway once used by Native Americans for trading. Some factories continue to operate near the waterfront while other abandoned ones leave a ghostly industrial presence behind.

The Calumet River system spans more than 100 miles from Lake Michigan, running through the South Side, south suburbs and northwest Indiana. It includes the Calumet River, Little Calumet River, Grand Calumet River and Calumet-Sag Channel. As Christopher Thale notes in his entry for Encyclopedia Chicago, the Calumet River system includes a “network of waterways, some human-made and others transformed by two centuries of human straightening, widening, dredging, channelizing, and damming, as well as by industrial pollution and landfilling of nearby marshes.” In the early 20th century, as downtown expanded “and heavy industry found itself short on space… developers and industrialists turn[ed] to the Calumet area, where they could still enjoy proximity to Chicago’s transportation, markets, labor force, and business services.”

In 1922, as interest in the Calumet River system’s industrial potential grew, the Metropolitan Sewage District dug the Calumet-Sag Channel (”Cal-Sag Channel”), which runs about 16 miles in total from the Little Calumet River to the Sanitary and Ship Canal. The channel and canal helped reverse the flow of the Calumet River, steering sewage away from Lake Michigan. The Cal-Sag Channel also served as a commercial route for the Illinois Waterway System, and it’s still fairly common to see barges cross the canal. Since then, efforts to clean up the waterway have made some progress, thanks in part to the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Deep Tunnel plan. In the 1990s, the villages of Blue Island and Worth spent millions of dollars to build five Sidestream Elevated Pool Aeration (SEPA) stations. Often called “man-made waterfalls,” these SEPA stations help treat waste water by giving the water more contact with the air, thus pumping more oxygen into the water. As a result of these clean-up efforts, beavers, Canadian geese and herons now flock to the area.

Steve Buchtel, a Homewood resident who works as the Southland coordinator for the Active Transportation Alliance, sees the trail improving not only the well-being of residents who live nearby but also spurring economic development for the communities along the trail. Buchtel, a member of the non-profit Friends of the Calumet-Sag Trail, has worked for years with other organizations to help spark interest in the project. He notes that currently, several south east suburbs are struggling to find economic bases, and traffic from east-west is often a congested nightmare for commuters. With Pace service cutbacks, rising obesity rates and ballooning poverty rates in suburbs, he and others argue that this trail is one step in improving the quality of life for several south suburban residents.

“We know quality of life isn’t affected just by jobs,” he says. “It’s affected by access to open space. It’s affected by mobility options. Are you hemmed in by expressways? Do you have good transit service in your town? It’s affected by health infrastructure – what are the things in the community that allow you to be active, that allow you to maintain good health?. I know from a political perspective, it’s an important message to say, job, jobs, jobs. But I think if you ask every individual in all of these communities, which would you rather have: good health, safe places for your kids to recreate or a job? I think the job is going to be less of a priority than their own personal well-being and the well-being of their family. So the trail is going to exist for people who have jobs, it’s going to exist for people who don’t have jobs. It’s going to exist for old people and for young people. It’s going to return value to the community no matter what the economy does.”

Buchtel points to one analysis provided by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center which says the Calumet-Sag Trail could pump in almost $5 million a year in recreation-related income, create $176,000 in health savings and lure 1,400 new cyclists to the area.

Figure Two: Proposed Route of Calumet-Sag Bicycle Trail

Getting Started

Portions of the trail are expected to open by 2012, and the project’s completion relies on federal grants and private donations. So far, phase one and two of engineering has begun on the western end of the trail, thanks to $300,000 in National Transportation Enhancements funds and a $424,948 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program (CMAQ). Engineering phases generally look at alignments and preparation for construction, according to David Landeweer, a senior manager at URS Corporation who is studying the project. Landeweer says getting underneath bridges and railroads will be the most challenging part of the project, though not entirely impossible. So far, a small section of the trail — about 1/8 of a mile — opened in Palos Heights’ Lake Katherine Nature Preserve in 2008.

A little after Palos received its first grant, Blue Island was awarded a $1.2 million grant from CMAQ to complete preliminary surveys on the eastern end and to begin phase one and two of engineering. Buchtel says Senator Richard Durbin’s office also awarded the project $268,000 to create a master plan for the trail. All 14 communities have signed an inter-governmental agreement and are expected to contribute a 20 percent match for grants awarded.

“We’re hoping it will spur some economic development along the way with bike shops, novelty shops, whatever people can use, a stand where people could stop and get refreshments to quench their thirst, and things like that on the trail,” says Robert Polk, village president of Burnham. “As far as the Burnham part goes, if there was an area [where residents] could park their bikes and catch the train to go to downtown Chicago, things like that would help the area and help to spur economic development and growth and create some jobs for the region.”

Burnham is one of the towns struggling to recover its economic base. Polk, who also works as a mechanic for ArcelorMittal Steel, says he sees residents bike riding along Torrence or Burnham Avenues without trail or bike path options. He awaits a point where those riders can bike along the Calumet-Sag trail, even if finding some of the funding for the project will be difficult. “It will be somewhat challenging because we have a lot of issues, housing market foreclosures and those sorts of things,” he says. “We’re trying to manage and get through it.”

Buchtel of the Active Transportation Alliance adds that in addition to creating scenic routes along the riverfront akin to those inNaperville and Lockport, the trail could also help honor the industrial past of the south suburbs.

“There are some places in the world where industrial architecture is a celebrated thing — that hasn’t been the case in the southeast suburbs. It’s something that just passes by without notice,” he says. “[For example] Mittal Steel [now part ofArcelorMittal], that’s where a lot of steel for the Sears Tower and John Hancock building, it came out of that plant. There’s a legacy there of city builders that most people don’t see when they pass through Riverdale and Dolton right now. How much of Chicago’s wealth has come through those rail lines that drive everyone crazy? A lot of it, but again, that’s a historical legacy that’s not told or not recognized. I think Calumet-Sag Trail is going to bring a lot more recognition to the role those communities played in making the Chicagoland what it is today.”

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Metra Electric Line Extension (broken)


High Speed Rail (link)



Potential Illiana Expressway routes.

Potential Illiana Expressway routes. (Click for larger view.)

The Illiana Toll Road is a proposed Interstate-standard highway between northern portions of Illinois and Indiana. As of December 2006, it is proposed as a southern tolled alternate to Interstate 80/94 It is expected to be approximately 23 miles in length; 10 miles in Indiana, and 13 miles in Illinois.A preliminary engineering study will complete by 2009 and determine the exact alignment of the highway. As proposed, the corridor is expected to run from Interstate 57 in Illinois east through Beecher, Illinois. East ofLowell, Indiana, the highway will terminate at Interstate 65.

The new east-west connection between northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana will result in decreased travel time, enhanced safety, and increased reliability for travelers in Illinois and Indiana. The Illiana Expressway will allow for more efficient movement of goods between transportation modes, while attracting new logistics and manufacturing companies looking to gain greater access to the marketplace.

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Intermodal Terminal Improvements

Canadian National terminal in Harvey.

Canadian National terminal in Harvey.

The Chicago Southland Region is home to four significant intermodal terminals: Canadian National Terminal in Harvey, IL, Union Pacific Terminal in Dolton/South Holland, Union Pacific/CSX Terminal in Crete, and the Belt Railway Terminal in Bedford Park. This webpage will contain basic information and any new developments regarding these intermodal sites.

Canadian National Harvey Terminal
Background Information
Proposed CN Logistics Warehouses in Homewood/Hazel Crest, IL

Proposed CN Logistics Warehouses in Homewood/Hazel Crest, IL

Canadian National  operates a large intermodal terminal in the city of Harvey, Illinois.  CN is currently undertaking a multi-million dollar effort to build a logistics park adjacent to the Harvey terminal. This allows customers of the Canadian National railroad a unique opportunity to locate adjacent to one of the largest intermodal terminals in the nation.

Additionally, the creation of the Logistics Park yields additional benefits as well:

  • Adjacent to CN’s Intermodal yard providing direct connection to CN’s network
  • Over 500 acres with total warehousing footprint of over 2.5 million square feet
  • Rail served warehouses
  • Foreign Trade Zone predesignation in progress
  • A few minutes to major highways including I-80, I-294, and I-57
  • Connects to all class 1 railroads
  • CN’s superior service from Vancouver and Prince Rupert
  • Flexible consolidation of products arriving by rail or truck, from different carriers
  • Other services include heavy container handling and in-park movement of containers significantly reducing dray and handling costs
  • Distribution services including warehousing, transloading, special cargo projects and container handling
Proposed Footprint of CN Logistics Center-Chicago

Proposed Footprint of CN Logistics Center-Chicago

The creation of the Logistics Park is estimated to created over 1,000 new jobs over a ten year span via internal expansion as well as other warehousing and distribution facilities moving to the area to support the CN Park. This park has the potential to become the economic engine for the entire south suburban area.    There are still some minor obstacles to overcome in order to make the CN Logistics Park Chicago a reality. Center Street from 159th Street to 171st Street as well as 167th Street from Center Street to Halsted Street must be rebuilt to accommodate for the increase in truck traffic to the area. This page will be updated regularly to keep the public informed on the progress of the Canadian National Logistics Park Chicago.




Interstate 57/294 Interchange

Interstate 57 and 294 project

General Information

The Illinois Department of Transportation in partnership with the Illinois Tollway is planning to construct a $600 million improvement involving Interstate 57, Interstate 294 and Illinois Route 83 (147th Street). The improvement will consist of constructing a full interchange with ramps between Interstate 57 and Interstate 294, improvements to 147th Street including a median to accommodate left turn lanes between Kedzie Avenue and Western Avenue/Dixie Highway, and construction of a partial interchange with ramps between Interstate 294 at 147th Street. Interstate 57 at Interstate 294 is one of two locations in the country where two Interstates meet without connecting. The completed Interstate 57/294 Interchange Project will connect these important Interstate highways as well as reduce travel times and congestion on local routes that are being used to facilitate the Interstate to Interstate linkage. It is anticipated the construction project will consist of up to 11 contracts to be implemented over a number of years.

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Metra Southeast Service

Proposed Metra Southeast Service Route

Proposed Metra Southeast Service Route

General Information

The 33-mile SouthEast Service (SES) is proposed to run along existing freight and passenger railroad tracks, enhancing Metra’s commuter rail service between the south suburbs and downtown Chicago. The SES line would link close to 20 communities in south Suburban Cook and Will counties, providing new opportunities for travel to downtown Chicago and economic growth and development for the south suburbs.

This new line would provide commuting opportunities for a fast growing, underserved corridor of the south suburbs. As the regional labor pool grows, we have to think and act strategically to provide transportation where it is needed and prevent any further congestion along our roadways as people travel into the city for work. We must also recognize and address the need to attract new employment opportunities in the south suburbs as population growth in this area is consistently outpacing job growth.

Proposed South Holland station

Proposed South Holland station

Connecting the south suburbs to the city of Chicago offers residents improved access to downtown jobs, schools, shopping, entertainment and other regional attractions. Business and real estate opportunities in the south suburbs also could expand, as developers look to take advantage of transit-oriented development and greater access to the region’s labor pool. Development within the south suburbs could also lead to an enhanced tax base as property values increase and retail sales grow.

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South Suburban Airport

Proposed Footprint of South Suburban Airport

Proposed Footprint of South Suburban Airport

The airport would serve as an additional airport in the Chicago metropolitan area. Supporters of the airport think it will bring new jobs to the southern suburbs of Chicago, while relieving critical runway and terminal congestion at O’Hare International Airport andChicago Midway International Airport. A new airport would accommodate larger jet service that Midway International airport cannot offer.

The state of Illinois submitted an Environmental Assessment to the FAA in March 1998 for approval of the development of an airport at a site in eastern Will County, Illinois. Recently, the FAA prepared a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for site approval and land acquisition. The FAA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the Tier 1 EIS in July 2002, which approved the Will County, Illinois site as a technically and environmentally feasible location for the development of a potential future air carrier airport in the south suburban area of the greater Chicago region.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) began purchasing land surrounding the Will County airport site in 2002 with funding of $75 million earmarked by the Illinois FIRST program. The state has purchased about half of the 4,200 acres (6.56  sq mi; 17.00 km2) required for the plan.

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