Planes, Trains and Automobiles: A Look at 2013

Article excerpt

Today we will journey -- to the future! Sort of.

Four experts have lent their visionary powers to this column to forecast the major transportation stories of 2013.

But first, best wishes for a safe and prosperous New Year. Drive carefully this winter. Always expect a train. And keep sending your thought-provoking comments, questions and advice to .

Planes

2013 marks the deadline for Chicago to resolve a dispute over expansion at O'Hare with United and American Airlines. The city "could make a strong argument that we're ready for finishing the project but ... I think American's bankruptcy is a fly in the ointment that may mean putting off hard decisions for another year or two," DePaul University Professor Joseph Schwieterman said.

Schwieterman, who also heads up DePaul's Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development, predicts "we're going to have good news on fuel costs and that could mean big crowds at O'Hare. There's some speculation fuel could drop to the 60s (dollars per barrel), which would be remarkable. It could go the other way too. I think the airlines are excited about getting relief and being able to put more planes in the air."

Northwestern University economist Ian Savage agrees that "2013 will be a crucial year for American Airlines. The merger with US Airways looks most likely -- but it is not clear to me that this will be a salvation. I would expect (American) to emerge from bankruptcy one way or another in 2013. It is an amazing story of how a company can fall from best to worst," he added.

Savage also thinks deliveries of the new Boeing 787 and its competitor the Airbus A350 "have the potential of introducing a whole new set of nonstop routes particularly in international markets with its expanded range and smaller size. It is possible that we may see new nonstops from Chicago to smaller Asian and European cities, avoiding connecting through hubs," he noted.

And although the push for a third airport near Peotone lost a supporter with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.'s exit from politics, "the Peotone effort will regroup," Schwieterman said.

Trains

Could 2013 bring less of the Union Station shuffle for Metra passengers?

Metropolitan Planning Council Vice President Peter Skosey thinks relief is in sight for passengers tired of trudging along crowded platforms. "If you're at the end of the train and have to walk -- it's a long walk," he said.

But Amtrak is considering a redesign that would eliminate out-of-date baggage platforms, creating a wider space for disembarking riders, he said.

"You could unload faster and reload trains quicker, resulting in more runs per day," Skosey said.

Automobiles

The Illinois tollway will spend about $412 million for widening the eastbound Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) in 2013. The work ultimately could mean one lane is subject to congestion pricing, meaning drivers would pay a premium to go faster during rush hour.

Skosey said planners need to let drivers know what will happen soon. "If we don't toll it or set up expectations that the added lane is different right from the get-go, it will be hard in three years (to charge a fee) when traffic has increased on it."

Savage also said a debate about possibly "introducing time-varying tolls on the Jane Addams to mitigate congestion" is simmering.

Meanwhile, Steve Schlickman, former RTA Chairman and head of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center, expects more details forthcoming on the necessary but painful reconstruction of the Circle Interchange where the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways converge in a big-time traffic jam. …