Pyke: What to expect for planes, trains and automobiles in 2016

  • Could state budget gridlock detour needed road repairs in 2016? One transportation expert says it's a possibility that's not getting nearly enough attention.

    Could state budget gridlock detour needed road repairs in 2016? One transportation expert says it's a possibility that's not getting nearly enough attention. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 12/28/2015 11:31 AM

More on-time flights at O'Hare? Uber and Lyft battling it out in the suburbs? Pace buses zipping along the I-90 shoulder? With 2015 fading fast, it's time to prognosticate about 2016.

And with help from three wise transportation men whose names all start with "S," we offer the annual In Transit year-end wrapup and predictions column courtesy of Steve Schlickman of University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University's Joseph Schwieterman and the Metropolitan Planning Council's Peter Skosey.


Schwieterman called the drop in fuel prices one of the top stories of 2015 and thinks it will "create a window for the state to raise gas taxes" in 2016.

"This increase, together with the rise in sales tax in Cook County in January, could generate some angst among taxpayers," predicted Schwieterman, a DePaul professor and director of its Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

And despite what some have called "civil war" in Lake County over whether to extend Route 53 north, he expects "major progress (on the project) ... with compromises that please both opponents and proponents."

Meanwhile, both Skosey and Schlickman thought the long-awaited passage of a five-year transportation bill after months of gridlock and continuances counted as top news in 2015.

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But Schlickman, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center, warned that the legislation falls short of what's really needed and only adds enough to address inflation.

"The bill provides $225 billion," he said. "Infrastructure experts have argued that the federal program should be on the order of $350 billion to $450 billion. We are dramatically falling behind the transportation infrastructure investment levels China is making."

Logic should dictate that at some point in 2016, the budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats will end.

But if it drags on, expect big trouble early this spring when road work should be gearing up, predicted Skosey, MPC executive vice president.

A construction freeze is a "serious problem that is not getting the attention it deserves," Skosey said. He's hoping for a new state capital plan, but doesn't anticipate anything moving until after the March primaries.


On a happier note, Schlickman is pumped that in 2016 the "upgrade of the Amtrak service from Chicago to St. Louis to a top speed of 110 mph will be complete -- the first new comprehensive higher-speed rail line in the nation since 1993." Currently, the route is capped at 79 mph.

Suburban bus riders also can welcome major upgrades from Pace with the "inauguration of arterial rapid transit bus service on Milwaukee Avenue, from Golf Mill Shopping Mall and bus-on-shoulder operations on I-90 between Elgin and Rosemont," said Schlickman, former Regional Transportation Authority executive director. These investments, he said, "portend more similar suburban bus service improvements for the future."

Skosey thinks suburbanites will love the Loop Link in 2016. Improvements to downtown bus service include designated lanes on Canal, Clinton,

Madison and Washington streets separating cars, buses and bicycles.

Raised platforms on Madison and Washington are part of the effort to reduce the gnarly congestion and speed up buses on Loop streets.

A bigger, better bus boarding area at Union Station is also coming.

"Nine bus routes are running through these fast lanes," Skosey said. "The investment is in the Loop but the beneficiaries are neighborhood residents and suburbanites."

What else?

On a prediction roll, Schwieterman projects that "we will finally see O'Hare rise in the ranks in on-time performance as we work on the kinks from that airport's expansion."

And, "Uber and Lyft will gain inroads in the far-out suburbs, creating fresh battles with taxi companies over competition," he foretold.

That's it from the experts. Now, here's my look- ahead:

• Watch for tolls starting up in the summer on existing portions of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) from Lake Street to I-290 once improvements are complete.

• The O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission will announce a plan to reduce the din from flights overnight early next year -- but not everyone's going to be happy.

• Metra will consider raising fares again in fall 2016.

• Chicago will be negotiating with United and American Airlines over construction of the sixth parallel runway at O'Hare.

• And one lastáoneácourtesy of the folks at the Environmental Law and Policy Center who caution that the Illiana Expressway isn't dead -- yet.

Got a prediction or comment? Drop me a line at and Happy New Year. Sincere thanks for all the comments, ideas and suggestions in 2015.

Vroom vroom

Got post-holiday blues? Cheer up. The Chicago Auto Show roars into town Feb. 13 to 21 at McCormick Place. For more information or to download the app, go to

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