I mentioned this in passing earlier this week, but I wanted to highlight this story of the American automobile fetish and how much it costs us. On Wednesday, the city officially opened an $800 million rebuild of the Jane Byrne Interchange, which started after the Union Pacific Railroad began rebuilding a single train station that still hasn't reopened:
The original Circle Interchange was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and had no major overhaul until the reconstruction project began in 2013. The project took nearly a decade to complete.
After eight years, the project to overhaul the entire interchange, where three expressways meet, is now substantially complete. It was slated to be complete in 2017, with a price tag of $535 million. It will end up costing $806 million.
Prior to its reconstruction, the interchange struggled to perform under its original 1958 design, resulting in congestion for the majority of the day and frequent unsafe conditions, according to the governor's office.
The American Transportation Research Institute and the Federal Highway Administration at one point rated the interchange the country's No. 1 bottleneck for freight.
I've previously reported on the excruciating wait for the Ravenswood station's east platform to open. But the Jane Byrne rebuild cost two orders of magnitude more and, in my opinion, should never have existed in the first place. Notice, in this 1961 Chicago Tribune photo, the complete destruction of the eastern half of Greek Town plus the flattened West Loop neighborhood between the river and Halsted, all in service of cars—even though Chicago back then had more railroad track per capita than any other city in the world:
Photo: Chicago Tribune
So, wonderful, after spending nearly a billion dollars, the "improvements" will once again induce demand that obviates them, probably within ten years. And that's one interchange. Imagine if we'd spent half that money on regular road maintenance and another half on, oh, the CTA?
The 75-year experiment of dispersing low-density housing over a wide area connected by dangerous, high-pollution roads failed almost as soon as it began. But we still can't accept that building a hundred train stations at $8 million a pop will have better long-term outcomes than rebuilding one road interchange—especially if we build them in one year rather than 10.