Whenever the Chicago real estate market heats up, proposals to add an office tower above the Great Room on the west side of the station arise. Why not do something productive, and provide an office tower with a proper concourse above the tracks? (Yes, that's a somewhat more challenging project, as none of the current north-end tracks line up with the corresponding south-end tracks. Make no small plans.)Unfortunately, the current planners have neither the will nor the wallet.
Effectively, [a recent planning report] said, the nation's third-largest railroad terminal — "a level of passenger traffic that would rank it among the 10 busiest airports in the U.S." — needs lots of work if it is to handle today's passenger load, much less a projected 40 percent increase in trains by 2040.None of those projects, however, have a highly-placed sponsor in Chicago's government.
Riders can testify to that. The once grand and sprawling intercity rail hub is now a chaotic barn, home to Amtrak trains, Metra trains and a funny sort of shopping center that goes up and down and mostly just gets in the way. Try getting around the station, especially when it's busy and you're swimming upstream. And try finding CTA buses, which are located in different spots, all of them far from el stations.
"Expansion of Union Station is key to the future of office growth downtown," says the planning council's Peter Skosey. "Union Station is at capacity now."
To deal with that, the plan sketched out in broad strokes a variety of fixes, some rather modest and others quite expensive, such as a new subway line under Clinton Street. Probably the most feasible were widening platforms that are used for freight and reclaiming old mail platforms that extend south of the station under a high-rise but still are usable. Each of them is in the $100 million-plus range, though officials say reconfiguring the concourse would cost only $50 million or so. But building a brand new station is rated at at least $500 million.