Transportation experts' 2020 forecast: More roadwork, more scooters, more transit riders
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E-scooters in the suburbs, a beatdown on double-parking delivery trucks and Metra in the driver's seat on UP tracks?
If our prognosticators say it's going to happen, it will. (Almost always.) Twilight falls on 2019 and In Transit's transportation experts have dusted off their crystal balls to make predictions for the year ahead.
First up to bat is DePaul University Professor Joseph Schwieterman, who forecasts that "transit ridership, after a long slump, will see steady gains. The gains will be facilitated by the decisions of transit agencies to avoid fare increases as well as recent investments that alleviate the worst problem spots on rail routes."
One certainty for 2020 is that Union Pacific Railroad wants out of operating passenger trains for Metra. An agreement for the freight railroad to run Metra's three UP lines expires Feb. 29.
"I suspect it will end with a deal allowing Metra to directly operate the trains while saving a few bucks in the process," said Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. "There is a lot of opportunity here for Metra, but the timeline seems really ambitious. Trying to forge an agreement in only a few months is no doubt causing some stress."
On the political front, state Sen. Cristina Castro said "the biggest thing to keep an eye on is the capital bill" in 2020. State legislation enabling the $45 billion infrastructure program passed in June, with funding coming in part from higher gas taxes, cost increases on items like vehicle registrations, and fees from new gambling options.
Hundreds of roads and bridges across the suburbs are set to be repaired and rebuilt over several years.
"We need to keep a close eye on revenue projections if they're going to be met," said Castro, a Transportation Committee member.
With the influx of cash, "2020 will be the year in which Illinois reinvests in transportation infrastructure following a decade of decline," Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard predicted.
Former Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn hinted about more synergies with bus and train tickets.
"Metra, Pace and the CTA will make significant strides in coordinating fares and service for the region's transit users," Blankenhorn said.
But if you prefer to power your own transit, Schwieterman projected "shared e-scooters will become much more prominent in larger suburban communities, particularly those with successful downtowns. This will generate pushback in certain places."
Switching to aviation, Northwestern University Professor Ian Savage contended 2020 will be a crucial one for Chicago-based Boeing, still reeling from the grounding of its 737 Max airplanes after two crashes.
"Will this aircraft ever fly again?" wondered Savage, an economist. "Will Boeing have to go back to the drawing board to develop a new mid-sized jet to complete with the Airbus A320 family of aircraft?
"It is tough to predict exactly what will happen given the mix of aeronautical and political issues involved."
Meanwhile, a healthy economy and airline discount fares "will have the unwelcome side effect of longer security lines and more crowding in waiting areas" at airports, Schwieterman predicted.
Schwieterman projected that "the fast-growing intercity bus line Flixbus will launch service to Chicago and several suburbs, linking these locations to other Midwestern points." Its closest stop currently is Columbus, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Savage said irritation with delivery trucks will peak next year. "The rise of e-commerce has led to an invasion of package delivery vehicles to urban streets.
"Double parking by these vehicles is common, and a debate will occur as to whether municipalities need to designate specific package loading zones in residential neighborhoods," he said.
Got a prediction for 2020? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should know
Metra will run extra trains for riders chafing to get home on New Year's Eve, which might affect some rush hour trains. Check schedules at metrarail. Plus -- no alcohol on railcars but you will travel for free after 6 p.m. Tuesday between Chicago and the suburbs.
Vroom vroom. The Chicago Auto Show opens its doors at 10 a.m. Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 17, at McCormick Place, Chicago. Tickets are $13 for adults, and $8 for children ages 7 to 12 and those age 62 and older. For more information, go to chicagoautoshow.