Noteworthy Chicago Transportation Developements — 1979 to 2014

Transportation has played a significant role in the growth and development of metropolitan Chicago since the city’s inception. Of course, the UTC has not been in existence that long, but the Center has been around during some pivotal moments in Chicago transportation. In recognition of the UTC’s 35th Anniversary in 2014, here are some transportation-related events that took place since the Center was founded.


  • On January 13-14, a blizzard dumped 18-plus inches of snow on metro Chicago. This resulted in transportation problems that lasted for weeks and helped usher in Jane M. Byrne as Mayor of Chicago during the February 27
    Blizzard 1979

    CTA rapid transit service was snarled following the heavy snows in January of 1979. This image was at the Loyola station.


  • Plans to build the Crosstown Expressway were canceled in 1979. The money allocated was used for construction of the subway/elevated Blue Line rail extension to O’Hare International Airport and the construction of the Orange Line to Midway Airport.
  • Plans were canceled to build the Franklin rapid transit and Monroe Street Distributor line that was to extend from Willow Street on the north to Cermak Road on the south.
  • Less noticed, but a development to cause trouble for the next 35 years, current UTC Executive Director Steve Schlickman landed a job as a bus driver while a student at Georgetown University.


  • Big news for riders of public transportation: Suburban commuter fares jumped 100%, CTA fares were hiked by 50%, services were cut and some suburban transit systems shut down.


  • In 1983, the RTA Act was amended with substantial changes made to the RTA’s organization, funding and operations. The amended Act created three service boards — Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra commuter rail and Pace suburban bus.


  • Work was completed on straightening the “S” Curve on a section of Lake Shore Drive from Monroe north to Huron Street.


  • Work began to repair and widen the northernmost three miles of the Dan Ryan Expressway from the Circle interchange south to 31st Street. The $250 million project encompassed the expansion of the main roadway to five lanes in each direction.


  • The Central Area Circulator project, which would result in a light rail network connecting commuter rail stations in the West Loop with the North Michigan Avenue area, was proposed.


  • Major modernization of O’Hare Airport began with the renovation of Terminal 3 in 1990, followed by the opening of the O’Hare Command Center in 1992. The Airport Transit System (ATS) and International Terminal 5 opened in 1993.


  • On April 13, a tunnel under the Chicago River collapses, flooding Loop basements, service tunnels and the CTA subway system. Service is disrupted in the State Street subway for 18 days and in the Dearborn Street subway for 24 days.

    Tunnel Flood

    A breach in old tunnels beneath the city flooded streets, buildings and subway lines along State and Dearborn streets.

  • Work began on a $450 million, three-year project to rebuild the 7.5 miles of the Kennedy Expressway from the Edens Junction east to Hubbard’s Cave near downtown.


  • The Orange (Midway) Line, the first new “L” line in a decade, opens between the Loop and Midway Airport.


  • Due to political changes in Springfield and Washington, the Central Area Circulator Project was cancelled.


  • The Museum Campus opened on June 4 when the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive were moved west of Soldier Field following the route of the expressway’s southbound lanes.


  • Work began on reconstruction of the Stevenson Expressway, which was completely rebuilt from Central Avenue north to Lake Shore Drive.


  • DuSable Harbor was completed, adding 420 additional boat slips to Chicago’s shoreline.


  • Meigs Field was closed for good on the night of Sunday, March 30. City crews used bulldozers to make large X-shaped gouges into the runway surface.

    Meigs Field

    Flights in and out of Meigs Field were halted after city workers carved large “X” patterns into the runways.


  • The Regional Planning Act was signed into law. The Regional Planning Board –later to become the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning — is formed.


  • In 2006 and 2007, IDOT reconstructed the entire length of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The project included addition of a travel lane from 47th Street to 95th Street. At that time, the project was the largest expressway reconstruction plan in Chicago history.


  • In the face of “doomsday” fare hike warnings, Illinois legislators increase the RTA sales tax in Cook and collar counties, and increase Chicago’s real estate property transfer tax. RTA’s powers are broadened.
  • Plans were put on hold to build a rapid transit “super station” under the Block 37 site downtown. More than $200 million was spent to date.


  • GO TO 2040 is adopted by leaders across the region. It is the first comprehensive plan for northeastern Illinois since the Burnham plan.  Transportation is a key element of the plan, including proposals for greater capital investments, improvements in public transit and development of more efficient freight rail corridors.


  • A fierce winter storm that dropped 20 inches of snow and included high winds struck Chicago on February 2. Thousands of motorists and CTA buses were stranded on parts of Lake Shore Drive.


  • The CTA shut down the Red Line from Roosevelt Road to the 95th Street terminal for a $425 million, five-month total reconstruction project.

    Red Line

    Reconstruction of the Red Line was completed in just five months.

  • Work began on the 606/Bloomingdale Trail project to convert an abandoned rail spur into a 2.7 mile park and trail system to connect four Chicago neighborhoods.


  • Lanes on the Kennedy Expressway were shut down for three weekends in June to accommodate bridge demolition at the Ohio and Ontario streets interchange. The proposed “carmageddon” traffic nightmare never materialized.
  • IDOT begins work on the reconstruction and expansion of the Circle Interchange, renamed the Jane Byrne Circle Interchange to honor the memory of the first woman mayor of Chicago. The four-year project is estimated at $475 million.