CHICAGO (CN) – Four firms, including an Elon Musk company, announced their interest in submitting a bid to build a private express train from O’Hare International Airport to downtown Chicago, in the revival of a project with a troubled history of government waste.
Today, a cab ride between O’Hare and downtown costs about $40 plus tip, and takes about 30 minutes in non-rush hour traffic. A Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, train ride departing from O’Hare costs $5 and takes about 55 minutes to arrive downtown. The return fare costs just $2.50.
One of the most anticipated bids announced Wednesday came from Elon Musk’s The Boring Company.
The company is currently working on two tunneling projects, one in Los Angeles and one in Baltimore, but has never completed a project similar to the proposed Chicago express line.
While bidders have not yet revealed any details about their proposals, Musk has described his plan as using personal “electric pods” in underground tunnels.
The other bidders include Oaktree Capital Management, and two joint ventures of builders and investors – O’Hare Express Train Partners (OHL Infrastructure, Kiewit, Amtrak) and O’Hare Xpress LLC (Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, JLC Infrastructure, Mott MacDonald and First Transit).
Mayor Daley originally hoped to convince Chinese investors to build an express line and spent $200 million to build a “superstation” for the project beneath Chicago’s Block 37 in the heart of downtown Chicago, which was intended to be the departure point for the special trains.
But the idea was shelved due to consultants’ estimates the project would cost upwards of $1 billion and would be unlikely to shorten commute times.
Today, the Block 37 station stands empty and dark – another example of a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel revived the idea last year, holding a press conference in the abandoned shell of the superstation to announce the opening of a bidding process on the express train project.
The terms of the project require bidders to fully fund the construction and operation of the line without a dime of city money, because cash-strapped Chicago doesn’t have any funds to spare.
The final system must take travelers between O’Hare and downtown in 20 minutes or less, operate at least every 15 minutes, and cost less than a cab fare to O’Hare.
Mayor Emanuel hasn’t ruled out using Block 37 as a downtown terminal for an express rail line, although construction in this area would massively disrupt existing CTA service to downtown Chicago.
Critics of the proposal question how many riders will be willing to pay a steep fare to shave 20 minutes off their commute time, and say the project is of little value to city residents.
Chicago has a dark history of privatizing its public infrastructure to the detriment of taxpayers.
In its most notorious example, Mayor Daley sold 75 years worth of revenues from Chicago’s parking meters to private investors for $1.1 billion in 2008. Revenues from city meters have already fully reimbursed investors for the purchase price and now turn a pure profit, minus operating costs.
After the city reviews the bidders’ qualifications, the next step will be the issuance of a request for proposals from qualified bidders.