Chicago rail users would have express transit from the city to both airports. (Photo by Tudor Hampton for ENR)

Why should voyagers check in for flights at the airport when they can do it downtown? On March 11, the Chicago Transit Authority responded with a preliminary concept to connect the city's downtown business district and two major airports with a dedicated express train.

The city has not yet defined the scope of construction. But engineering sources close to the project say the $213.3-million plan, if approved this year, would come online within the decade. It would link both Midway and O'Hare airports with high-speed express trains paired alongside existing commuter lines. The express line would meet at a central hub located underneath Block 37, a key plot of vacant land facing the Marshall Field's department store in the heart of downtown Chicago.


Commuters literally would take the train to the plane. The station would serve as a full-service intermodal terminal with ticketing, baggage-handling and security checkpoints, officials say. The station would link the city's elevated Orange, Blue and Red lines, in addition to the existing Dearborn and State Street subways. CTA president Frank Kruesi calls the project "a window of opportunity" for Chicago's mass-transit system.

Since June 2002, ongoing negotiations have progressed between the city and Mills Corp., Arlington, Va., to develop Block 37's surface with a mixed-use building. CTA has proposed financing its airport subway station by using $172.4 million of internal and city funds, with Mills Corp. to supply the remaining $40.9 million. In order for the project to continue and design work to begin, CTA first needs a funding commitment from Mills Corp., according to city officials.