Metra hikes to electric bikes: 2017's transportation forecast

In a world of uncertainty, you can count on one thing: our annual transportation predictions for the new year by a panel of experts on planes, trains, automobiles and politics.

Let's start with one close to home. Despite momentum at the Illinois tollway to spend up to $50 million to study extending Route 53 north, our prognosticators are dubious about the project's fate in 2017.

“The opponents of Route 53 expansion will gain the upper hand as decision-makers grow more weary of all the contentious debate. The problem of rising congestion will not be enough to break the stalemate on Route 53,” DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said.

Former state senator and former tollway director Bill Morris of Grayslake anticipates the demise of the Route 53 extension, which lost the support of Republican Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in May in the face of a $2 billion funding gap. Morris said that if Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to be re-elected he “can ill-afford to risk losing Lake County.”

But state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights, a member of the Tollway Oversight Committee, thinks “the tollway will keep it alive as long as it can” — regardless of questions about how to pay for it.

Will Metra want more?

One thing that seems sure in 2017 is a Metra fare increase coming Feb. 1. Asked if the agency will raise prices again this year, the consensus was “yes.”

“Metra will move ahead with another increase, taking advantage of the strengthening economy and worsening congestion to help it modernize,” Schwieterman said. Rising traffic congestion will offset many of the negatives of a rate hike, he said.

Former Regional Transportation Authority chief Steve Schlickman agreed, adding if the state budget stalemate continues, lawmakers won't pass a capital plan and “Metra may have no choice but to go to the fare increase well again” to address the state-of-good-repair backlog.

Asked if state capital funding will dry up, Republican Harris answered, “I am going to answer this ‘yes,' and it pains me to do so.”

Northbrook Democrat and Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Elaine Nekritz also expects little movement “on a significant capital program unless and until the bigger budget impasse can be resolved or at least progress made.”

Next move on noise

Switching to O'Hare International Airport, the city of Chicago ended a popular overnight weekly runway rotation test Dec. 25.

The city and Federal Aviation Administration need to assess the data and there's no guarantee when another rotation, intended to evenly distribute jet noise around the region, will begin.

That's a tough break for residents who say the trial gave them much-needed shut-eye, although folks in communities that got an unexpected din welcome the reprieve.

Chicago's “mayor will likely stay the course and keep the rotations only temporarily, much to the chagrin of several suburban communities,” Schwieterman said.

But U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat who represents suburbs around the airport, thinks the city will and should continue the rotation and “they should expand it to more hours in the day.”

Back to earmarks?

There's buzz in Washington that Congress will resurrect earmarks, Quigley hinted.

congressional directives that funds be spent on specific projects were banned in 2011 with the aim of eliminating “pork” projects.

“Some say it's a bad idea; others think it's a way to have members target funds where they're needed,” Quigley said.

He predicted there's a strong possibility House Speaker Paul Ryan will allow a vote on the issue.

That will help Illinois if earmarks are revived, added Quigley, who is on the House Committee on Appropriations and the transportation subcommittee.

Meanwhile, despite uncertainty on how President-elect Donald Trump will treat blue states such as Illinois, Schlickman doesn't think local projects, including O'Hare modernization, will suffer.

Uber, Airbnb rules?

Schwieterman added two insights for 2017.

“Travelers may see growing pushback by suburban governments against services like Airbnb and Uber,” he predicted.

“These services are growing so fast that there is a serious risk of ‘overregulation.'”

And, electronically powered bikes “will become much more prevalent, pushing the debate over bicycle safety in an unexpected new direction,” he said.

Got a prediction? Drop me an email at

Route 53 extension at a crossroads Tollway should think twice - and in the open - about continuing $50 million study

Tollway should stop spending on Route 53 study

Metra putting brakes on new rail car purchases

Metra increases fares for third straight year

Experts share consensus that Metra is likely to raise fares again in 2017. Daily Herald File Photo
  Experts predict O'Hare modernization will continue to receive federal funding in 2017 but the fate of a runway rotation experiment is unclear. Daniel White/
If electric bikes - yes, bicycles with little motors - become more popular, the safety of bicycling will become an increasing concern. AP Photo/The State Journal-Register, Rich Saal, 2014
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