Express buses on the Tri-State? Pace revving its engines with funding influx

After years of being relegated to meager portions and last-in-line status of local transit agencies, Pace suburban bus finds itself with the means to do something big.

With a $228 million state windfall and the prospect of (gasp!) regular capital funding, Executive Director Rocky Donahue is thinking express buses on the Tri-State, irrigating the transit desert and conquering the suburb-to-suburb commuting problem.

State lawmakers in June approved a $45 billion capital bill after years without consistent funding for roads, bridges and transit.

"This was historic and monumental for our agency," Donahue said Thursday. "It will be the one-time largest cash infusion in our history."

Here's a look at what's ahead:

In collaboration with the Illinois tollway, Pace intends to expand and enhance bus service on the Tri-State (I-294) between the south suburbs and the CTA Blue Line Rosemont station with $35 million from the state.

This would include new park-and-rides, stations and the ability to use shoulder or "flex" lanes during rush-hour traffic. The tollway is currently widening the Central Tri-State between Rosemont and Oak Lawn.

Some Pace buses do use I-294 but they're often stuck in traffic. "The key to this service is when that bus is able to bypass the congestion" and get riders to their destinations on time, Donahue said.

The move builds on a growing service on the Jane Addams Tollway with express buses that use flex lanes at peak times. "The goal is to not only relieve congestion in these corridors ... but to get people to work" at job centers around Rosemont and Schaumburg, Donahue said. Later this year, Pace will embark on a market study to pinpoint demand and routes.

Down the road, the agency could create similar corridors on the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355) from DuPage County into Schaumburg and potentially on the Eisenhower. "We could help with that bottleneck," Donahue said, referring to congestion between Hillside and Oak Park.

This August, Pace will debut a "Pulse" bus on Milwaukee Avenue between Niles and the CTA's Jefferson Park Station. A shift from tradition, Pulse promises faster service with limited stops on buses with Wi-Fi and other features. Instead of bus stops consisting of a pole and a sign, mini-stations will be easy to find and offer protection from the elements.

Future priority Pulse projects include: a Cermak Road route connecting the Cermak/54th CTA stop at the end of the Pink Line with Yorktown Center in Lombard; and a Roosevelt Road route linking the Forest Park CTA Blue Line station with Oakbrook Center.

In the short term, Pace intends to provide Wi-Fi on all buses, not just express ones. As Pace retires vintage buses, it's replacing them with Wi-Fi-equipped ones. That transition could be completed this time next year, fingers crossed, planners said.

"The reality is - we need to look at things differently," Donahue said. For example, in so-called "transit deserts" in rural areas, "maybe instead of just running the quote-unquote big empty bus up and down the street, maybe we just subsidize Uber trips, subsidize Lyft trips or taxi programs," he said.

One stress-reliever for Pace, Metra and the CTA is recent legislation that ensures a steady stream of money for capital needs - about $227 million annually.

"We're taking advantage of this influx of money to get us into the 21st Century," Donahue said. "We want more reliable, faster, frequent service."

Got questions about Pace or other transportation issues? Send an email to

You have until 3 p.m. Monday to experience Union Pacific Railroad's Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive on view in West Chicago.


You have until 3 p.m. Monday to experience Union Pacific Railroad's Big Boy No. 4014 steam locomotive on view in West Chicago. The world's largest steam locomotive, built for UP in 1941, was lovingly restored by the railroad and can be found at Larry S. Provo Training Center, 335 Spencer St. For info, go to

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