18 Apr Chicago-Milwaukee "mega-metro" infrastructure improvements are critical
If we look at visionary planners that focus on developing greater metropolitan areas, we would find that the eventual growth from Chicago will spread up Lake Michigan into southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee. Some envision that as the great “Meg-Metro area” on Lake Michigan stretching down from Milwaukee to Chicago.
There are already commuters from Wisconsin that take a train into Chicago from as far away as Milwaukee on a daily basis. That number seems to be growing and the vision of creating a Mega-Metro center on the Lake already has some signs of existence.
With all the new residential developments going forward in Chicago, the suburbs, and now southeastern Wisconsin, people have many choices for living in different areas. There is an option to commute to downtown Chicago or telecommute from their house electronically. With a good choice for home office packages from the network carriers that support their area, workers may also have an option to stay at home on days when the weather is bad or when some other issue pops up.
There are also a growing number of companies that provide flexibility for telecommuting from the house.
What is available on the network side?
With current service offerings like DSL, the network packages for a home office are pretty cut and dried. It’s too bad we do not have Verizon up here because they have packages today that offer 50Mbps.
You need fiber to the home to get higher connectivity, and in almost all cases we are far from having that as a viable option in the near future.
After looking at available connectivity for the home, the next big issue is to look at how easy it is to get to work every day. Do you drive or take public transportation? Is public transportation even a viable option?
Public transportation? Take the “A” train
Lately, there have been some major developments that would lead you to believe that the Mega-Metro center vision is being further implemented. These developments will depend on access to public transportation to entice workers to become commuters.
If you are living in the Chicago area, you have the CTA as well as various commuter train lines coming in that are managed by METRA. Today, there is a METRA line that extends north all the way to Kenosha, Wis. The trouble with that line is that it has a lot of stops and is not as swift as the AMTRAK line that goes from Milwaukee to Chicago’s Union Station. AMTRAK has only two stops in between – Glenview, Ill. and Sturtevant, Wis., just west of Racine.
In Racine, there are several downtown residential and mixed-use developments that are positioning that city to attract the working commuter, with some nice alternatives to downtown Chicago condos. It is a good strategy.
One Racine development, Pointe Blue, will be right on Lake Michigan and will offer a mixture of waterfront villas, single-family homes, boulevard townhomes, and a residential tower. The marketing strategy is that some people that work in Chicago or Milwaukee would buy residences in Racine and commute every day.
The question becomes, why would I buy a $450,000 condo in Racine if I can get one in Chicago and not have to commute? That is a big question, and it’s critical to streamline that commute as much as possible.
There are plans for a new light rail system that will make several stops from Racine to Kenosha to connect to the METRA station, but that is a long way off. The need to create a link-up from downtown Racine to the AMTRAK station, which is several miles west of downtown, appears to be a more viable and immediate solution.
AMTRAK must also put in more trains to fill up the options for daily commuters. If they do that, the region becomes much more desirable to the Chicago commuter, and real estate projects will be more marketable.
The more expedient solution would be to put some buses on a route from downtown Racine to the AMTRAK station for a streamlined commute, instead of riding a commuter train to another city to jump on another train to get to Chicago.
The concept of improving the overall infrastructure has to be a shared concept as well as a shared cost between local and county governments as well as the railroad authority. The multi-agency dependence is clearly evident in this case, and it’s necessary for making this endeavor successful with the real estate developers.
Are all the planning committees and project executives speaking to one another on this endeavor? They should be because saving the money on building the light rail system could be put to good use financing other key endeavors.
CARLINI-ISM: Successful new developments depend on maximizing the infrastructure to support them.
Copyright 2007 – James Carlini
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This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
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