RFMA succeeds in getting Morgan Street station
November 1, 2008

By Patrick Butler | November 2008

“We heard the local businesses, and the City in turn heard us,” said Randolph/Fulton Market Association Director Roger Romanelli, elated after the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) decision to put a Morgan Street stop on the Green Line elevated train route running along Lake Street.

Work will begin in March 2009. Because Lake Street will be kept open and the trains will continue running during construction, the job will take about 18 months. That is longer than Romanelli would like, but better late than never, he feels.

Romanelli said his 90-member business group, representing the area between Halsted Street, Hubbard Street, Ogden Avenue, and Washington Boulevard, had been lobbying since 2002 for a station to replace the old Halsted el stop that was closed in 1995 during the Green Line renovation.

The original Morgan station was torn down in 1948 when the area—and ridership—started slipping.

The decision to go ahead with the new station came out of a $2.5 million Chicago Department of
Transportation study that also led to creating the Pink Line; adding five new bus routes, including the Randolph Street Express; and enhancing existing el lines.

“The City is recognizing that businesses are here and their employees need to get to work affordably and in an environmentally gentle way,” said Romanelli.

The stakes, Romanelli said, are high.

“We’ve got 200 businesses employing 3,000 workers in the Randolph/Fulton Market district,” he said.

High price tag

Romanelli’s only concerns at this point are the reported $35 million price tag for the new station and that the money apparently will be coming out of the Kedzie Avenue TIF District, which Romanelli said has $38 million in the bank and collects $12 million a year in property taxes.

“It’s only your standard station with handicapped access,” Romanelli explained. “There will be elevators, and there will certainly have to be new structural supports. But $38 million?”

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokeswoman Maria Castenada explained it is impossible” to tell how much the station will cost until officials approve a design and award bids later this year.

“But whatever the cost is, the cost is,” said Bob Wiggs, director of the 90-year-old West Loop
Community Organization (WLCO), which represents some 125 businesses, agencies, and organizations
in the area running from 600 north to 1600 south between Wells Street and California Avenue.

“It’s absolutely terrific,” Wiggs continued. “It’s long overdue. We’d really like to have some input on the finished design, and we know we will,” he said, adding that “Roger [Romanelli] deserves a lot of the credit. He really took the bull by the horns.”

The Morgan station will be midway between the existing Clinton Street (540 west) and Ashland Avenue (1600 west) stops, which are 1.5 miles from one another. The new station will have two entrances, bike racks, a concession stand, customer assistance kiosks, security cameras, and a six-car parking area translucent canopy, according to the WLCO.

Romanelli plans to ask CDOT and the CTA to be more specific about just how much the new stop is going to cost—but certainly not because he wants to stop the project.

“We want to talk about doing this in a thoughtful way,” Romanelli said. “It’s the biggest public works project we’ve had here since they rebuilt the Green Line. We’re going to ask for comparables from the Brown Line construction project,” he said.

Another concern, Romanelli added, is whether commuters would drive to the West Loop and take the CTA downtown after parking in spaces needed for employees and customers in what is still a highly industrial area where parking is at a premium.

Also competing for those precious parking spaces are patrons of the area’s trendy retailers and
restaurants as well as residents of the new housing sprouting all over just a few blocks south, according to local businesspeople Lee Friedheim of Cougle Commission Co. and Bill Bojeczko of Exel Corned Beef.

Positive impact

A new station at that location cannot help but have a positive impact on everyone, said Harpo
Studios’ Bill Becker. Harpo has many full- and part-time employees, audiences of up to 1,000 people a day for tapings of Oprah Winfrey’s shows, and scores of shoppers at the Oprah Store. Another local organization that will benefit is the Haymarket Center social service agency at 932 W. Washington Blvd., whose 500 employees and 18,000 clients overwhelmingly use mass transit.

“Communities tend to thrive when there’s transportation nearby,” Anthony Cole, the agency’s vice president, said.

“We have a 24-hour operation in the Randolph/Fulton Market area,” Romanelli noted. “We have businesses starting operations at 3 a.m., restaurants opening at 5 a.m., and residents and workers coming and going day and night. Halsted is a destination point for the 3,000 industrial workers in the morning. And in the afternoon, it’s a destination for restaurant-goers and art gallery patrons.”

Romanelli hailed the CTA’s green light for the Green Line’s newest station as a very “green thing to do,” noting that putting a station at Lake and Morgan Streets would help not only the local economy but the environment by taking more cars off the street.

“We’ve been talking green for many years,” he concluded. “This is another way to really engage companies about producing small carbon footprints. Hopefully those companies will develop public transit plans for their employees and even encourage them to use bikes.”

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