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Transportation

Pace looks to highways for expansion

Pace express bus

A Pace Express bus is shown in 2013 at the announcement of expanded I-55 routes from Plainfield to Chicago. | Matthew Grotto/Sun-Times

If the folks at Pace who think about bus routes all day — or at least much of the day — had to pick a theme song for 2019, the front-runner might be “Life is a Highway.”

The public transit agency began service on the Stevenson Expressway in 2011, offering suburbanites as far-flung as Plainfield an affordable way to get downtown; since then, the service has grown by 600 percent.

“It’s an unprecedented growth,” Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said Monday.

Ridership aboard Pace buses on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, also known as I-90, between Elgin and Rosemont, where passengers can transfer to CTA blue line trains, has increased by 40 percent since 2016, when service was expanded.

“Our goal is to expand these growth markets,” Daly Skogsbakken said.

Pace, which also runs buses on the Edens Expressway between Lake Cook Road and downtown, hopes one day to operate buses on the Tri-State Tollway, also known as I-294.

But like many transportation agencies in the region, their dreams live and die with a state capital plan that, should it gain approval in Springfield, would offer a cash infusion.

“We’ve been asking for a capital investment for a while; it’s been a decade since the state has issued a capital plan,” Daly Skogsbakken said.

The administration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, sworn into office on Monday, offers a fresh opportunity to get a deal done.

“We do believe we have a good shot with the new administration,” Daly Skogsbakken said.

Pace is asking for $1 billion, part of which would go toward expanding highway services.

In the meantime, Pace plans to eliminate 12 bus routes in the coming weeks — including three that will see their last runs Friday.

A number of buses from those routes will move to highway routes.

Three suburban bus routes being eliminated by Pace due to poor ridership are:

• Route 824, providing weekday rush hour service from eastern Bolingbrook to the Lisle Metra Station on the BNSF Line.

• Route 809, providing weekday rush-hour service between the Village of Richmond and the Fox Lake Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line.

• Route 661, providing weekday rush hour service from southwest Westmont to the Westmont Metra Station on the BNSF Line.

The routes don’t meet minimum performance standards of efficiency, productivity and ridership, Daly Skogsbakken said.

For example, the Route 809 bus has an average ridership of one passenger, she said.

The nine additional routes being eliminated this spring are: 304, 326, 362, 532, 209, 348, 504, 540 and 546.

Ridership on Pace was down overall about three percent in 2018, which is in line with the national average.