Daily Herald opinion: Metra can make some traffic lemonade from the impending Kennedy lemons
Here's a marketing idea for Metra this summer, free of charge: Offer every passenger on the inbound Union Pacific Northwest Line a free cup of lemonade -- and start early.
Lemonade, of course, is the classic summertime thirst quencher, so a little taste would make a good travel promotion anytime, but it is particularly appropriate for Northwest suburban commuters in the Summer of 2023. The reason? Monday, they entered a transportation season of lemons, as the Illinois Department of Transportation launched a three-year bridge rehabilitation project.
Among other upgrades, the effort will rehab 36 bridges and patch pavement as needed between the Edens Expressway and Ohio Street. Work on the inbound portion of the project started Monday and is expected to continue into November.
Metra, as well as the CTA's Blue Line and Pace buses, can be a sweet solace for this sour circumstance. And should be. The suburban rail agency already has begun preparing to expand its service, with the addition of 12 trains to the weekday schedule beginning on Monday, April 3. Trains will run every 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour at most stations at other times. Pace also issued a press release Monday touting passes and fare options that can help make connections to CTA lines to get around the traffic.
This is, coincidentally, an auspicious opportunity for Metra. The line has been working to win back passengers after two years of being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. As commuters, hopefully, leave their vehicles to let mass transportation carry them past the traffic jams and roadway disruption, Metra has the chance to reacquaint them with an option for comfort and convenience that may stick with them well beyond the end date of the IDOT project.
In that sense, commuters can be spared some of the angst of the highway construction morass, Metra can rev up its ridership numbers and the region can benefit from the cleaner air that will come from pulling vehicles off the roadways.
Surely, it's a win-win-win alternative worthy of a refreshing toast.
Nor, will the opportunity for, ahem, celebration be limited to this summer's inbound Kennedy traffic disruption -- which by the way will see the two left lanes closed until July, when the two right lanes be closed until November. After the inbound portion of the rehab work is done, attention will turn to the reversible lanes in 2024 and to the outbound lanes in 2025.
No doubt, seeing passengers enjoying some free refreshment on the Northwest Line will stir some envy among commuters left out on Metra's other trains or on all the multi-colored CTA veins that, in addition to the Blue Line, spider out from the city. But not to worry.
This is Chicago. They'll get their turn.