Amtrak has announced a $40 million construction project at Union Station in Chicago that will effectively double the seating in its general passenger lounges, increase the number of public restrooms and provide air conditioning to the Great Hall for the first time since the early 1960s.
Gov. Pat Quinn was on hand to announce the renovation, calling the 100 jobs that the project will create “good middle class jobs” and the overall scope of the project “an important investment to make sure that Union Station is a 21st Century station.”
Union Station is the hub of the Midwest network, a connection of major cities and universities throughout the region to Chicago. In January, the hub received $2.6 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), with $1.2 billion dedicated to high speed rail initiatives in the State of Illinois. Most of that money will fund a high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis, where the first 90 miles of track upgrades are already underway. State officials hope to have the St. Louis-to-Springfield portion of the route complete and running by 2012.
Regardless of when the high speed rail line reaches Union Station in Chicago, the architectural icon that was designed by Daniel Burnham in 1925 is in need of upgrades already due to increased rider demand.
Tom Caper, board chairman for Amtrak, said that ridership on the St. Louis-to-Chicago route is up 11 percent in 2010 and the Chicago-to-Milwaukee route is up 6 percent.
“Every day the station is so crowded that people have to sit on the floor,” said Frank Tverdek , vice president/general manager of Jones Lang LaSalle, the firm responsible for building management. “We are going to increase the coach lounge seating area by more than 400.”
The official number of seats will be 950, expanded from 450, and the project will be completed by the end of 2012.
The project will be funded by federal dollars, but not through the ARRA specifically, said Quinn.
Jones Lang LaSalle will also develop plans for the available space in the eight-story Headhouse, which will convert the Amtrak-owned Chicago landmark into performing real estate. The firm will complete a feasibility study that will determine the highest and best use of the space. Ewa Weir, senior vice president for Jones Lang LaSalle, said that the study should be finished within a month.
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