Is Arlington Heights ready for the traffic of a new Chicago Bears stadium?
Let's imagine it's 2032 and the Chicago Bears have just shellacked the Green Bay Packers at their popular Arlington Heights stadium.
Elated fans hop on public transit or exit the venue using a multilane underpass that whisks cars to Route 53.
Or ... it's 2032 and the Bears have lost to the Packers in Arlington Heights. There's insufficient public transit and traffic mayhem on Route 14. Myriad drivers divert onto local streets, incensing residents.
If the Bears finalize a deal to leave Soldier Field and move to the suburbs, everyone would prefer the first scenario. But building an efficient transportation network will cost millions, and planning needs to start now, experts say.
"It's not just a few Bears games," Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association CEO Michael Sturino said. "People will come in volumes -- and infrastructure will be the key to whether it's a success or not."
The Bears envision a massive stadium at the former Arlington Park and a commercial/residential development nearby with a hotel, shops, restaurants and multiunit dwellings. The overall cost of the development is estimated at $5 billion.
There are few specifics, but Arlington Park held about 32,000 people. Soldier Field's capacity is 61,500, and its replacement would accommodate more. That will dump thousands of extra cars into the site bordered by Route 53, Route 14, New Wilke Road and Euclid Avenue.
To fix this, the Bears' tentative plans include two underpasses at Route 53 and Northwest Highway connecting with parking, improvements to ramps at Euclid and a pedestrian underpass at the Arlington Park train station or a grade-separated crossing to keep fans safe.
It's too early for itemized cost estimates, Bears officials said, but none of these come cheaply. For example, a current grade separation project in Barrington is estimated at $73.5 million.
So who's going to pay for all this?
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has previously said, "We are not currently considering using public funds for a new stadium."
His Republican gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Darren Bailey, has stated, "it is not the responsibility of taxpayers to fund the move."
Bears CEO/President Ted Phillips and Chairman George McCaskey said the team will build the stadium with private money, but that public dollars should subsidize infrastructure.
So far, the team has not submitted any official proposals, IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said.
"Whether it's the Chicago Bears organization or others acting on behalf of a proposed private development, a traffic impact study is required to assess the impacts to the highway right of way, including access, drainage and traffic impacts," she said.
With residents excited about football but wary of gridlock, Arlington Heights already has commissioned a traffic study. An efficient transportation system can be achieved but "will take thoughtful analysis and the involvement of many stakeholders for a project of this magnitude," Mayor Tom Hayes said.
The plans also anticipate heavy use of Metra's Arlington Park station on the UP Northwest Line.
"We have had some preliminary, informational meetings with the team," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said. "While we are open-minded about its plans, we are not ready to comment publicly about them."
There are a lot of moving parts that need to converge, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Executive Director Erin Aleman said.
"Any major redevelopment requires substantial regional planning and coordination, as well as considering important transit factors like access, safety, traffic and congestion," she said.
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You should know:
With the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks preseasons under way this week, the CTA is offering extra service on its #20 Madison Street Bus from Ogilvie Transportation Center to the games and on the United Center Express Bus No. 19 back to the station. The agency also operates park-and-ride lots from the suburbs, including the Rosemont and Forest Park Blue Line stops.
Bridge repairs to the Route 14 bridge over the Edens Expressway in Chicago will continue through late October. That means ongoing lane closures, IDOT reports.