In today's Chicago Tribune the lead article is titled "In the Cross Hairs of the Crosstown". The article is about long-dormant plan from the 1960's to create another expressway through Chicago that would connect the North side of the city and the Southwest side of the city. The expressway would mainly run along Cicero avenue for the north / south length (where 90 / 94 meet) and then head almost due east / west south of Midway airport until it hit 94 again on the way to Indiana. One goal of the expressway would be to enable trucks to avoid going through the center of the city as they make their cross country trip on I90 and I94. The expressway would also connect many of the south and west suburbs for north / south purposes - today they mainly can go east / west on highways but other directions can only go on overburdened local highways.
The original Mayor Daley pushed this highway in the 60's but it fell apart in the face of local opposition, from groups that didn't want their businesses demolished to make way for the expressway. At about that time (60's & 70's) if you look at the history of cities like Chicago the last of the great infrastructure projects died out and there really hasn't been much that has occurred since that date; no expansion of the "L", O'Hare expansion is pretty much stuck, the third airport is going nowhere, and only in the western suburbs were they able to make a bit of progress with I88 (formerly I5, the "lonely nickel") and I355 which really was just a connection. Recent construction projects, painful as they are, only barely keep our infrastructure from falling apart completely. The new Dan Ryan project? Just a resurfacing of existing lanes. The renovation of the Stevenson? The same. And the new Red Line project that is going to "double" commute times for years to come? Just to keep the damn thing from falling apart completely. I remember the reconstruction of upper and lower Wacker drive (to keep it functioning) - that long delayed project occurred when some bridge engineers gave it a "zero" on a numeric scale, but once again, no expansion.
India's New Subway
In the same Sunday Tribune there is a well-written article called "Engineering An India that moves" about a new subway that was built in India's capital New Delhi. An engineer named Elattuvalapil Sreedharan beat the shabby way projects were typically done in India and built a first class system on budget and ahead of schedule. At the age of 67, he had to build a subway system across a densely populated and chaotic city. His conditions (per the article)
- He would award contracts to pre-qualified bidders, to minimize interference from politicians
- He would choose his own team of engineers
- He would build the project to world standards, not Indian ones
- He would have the power to bypass most of the country's complicated bureaucracy
Back to Chicago
An in the bottom of a related article about the Cross Town expressway is the following quote:
"Planning for such a large-scale project would take about 10 years or longer before construction can begin, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation"
From a quick analysis of the two projects it would seem that in Chicago we would be wise to allow for the conditions that enabled India's subway system to succeed on time and on budget while Chicago's is doomed to fail. Our department of Transportation obviously can't be counted on to do this right, and our politicians will botch it every step of the way.
The saddest part, however, isn't the conditions that the engineer from India laid out - even if those same conditions could be applied to Chicago we are missing one more thing - a man of integrity similar to that engineer from India. Our politicians and high ranking public servants are tarnished and corrupt, as can be gathered by the myriad reports of corruption and failure at all levels of Illinois government, from the Governor all the way down. I don't think that they would ever find one non-corrupt person to run it (these people exist, but they wouldn't be nominated by our existing leadership).
And thus, we will have nothing but perhaps small projects here and there just to keep critical arteries from absolutely crumbing into dust. This is the transportation "vision" for Illinois.
To the Chicago Tribune, I say keep up the good work on the investigative articles, but "connect the dots" and call it out the way it is... we aren't the "City that works", we don't even work as well as a third world country. And someday that third world country will pass us...