DeKALB – A Chicago-based consultant is moving forward with plans for a DeKalb city transit study to determine whether a Metra route could connect directly to DeKalb, expanding residents’ access to the suburbs and Chicago, after a unanimous City Council vote Monday.
The DeKalb City Council approved 8-0 a vote to hire Chicago-based consulting company Sam Schwartz Consulting for $98,739 to conduct a transit study to better determine how to expand and evolve the city’s existing public transit options.
The vote was held during the Council’s regular meeting Monday.
DeKalb and much of the county lies about an hour or less west of downtown Chicago, depending on the starting point. The Elburn Metra station, however, is about a half hour’s drive from DeKalb, and takes riders directly into the suburbs and downtown Chicago.
DeKalb was once home to a train line to Chicago: The Chicago and North Western Transportation Company once operated commuter trains across the MidWest. That line was discontinued in the 1960s, according to the transit study proposal. A few years later, Interstate 88 was extended to DeKalb.
“While people welcomed the tollway connection at the time, we now know the many downsides of an auto-centric world,” The Sam Schwartz Consulting company stated in the proposal. “Specifically, it has left DeKalb and NIU with only one way to connect students, residents and workers to Chicago. [...] The Chicago metropolitan area is an undeniable economic powerhouse that DeKalb and NIU must leverage to remain competitive with the wider world.”
According to the transit study proposal submitted to the city by Sam Schwartz Consulting Dec. 1., the study would help better aid the city’s plan to encourage growth both in the city and for Northern Illinois University enrollment.
NIU has long struggled with enrollment over the past decade. Freshmen enrollment, however, has climbed over the past few years. This past fall, NIU defied national trends by recording an 11% increase in overall freshmen enrollment, according to first semester 2022-23 enrollment numbers.
The NIU administration, city leaders including City Manager Bill Nicklas and Transit Director Mike Neuenkirchen recommend the City Council approve the contract, which would be paid for using the city’s Transportation Fund, which collects revenue from motor fuel tax.
The city of DeKalb has already taken steps to better determine how area residents are using public transportation.
City leaders also said they want to better determine residents’ desire for commuting by making the public bus to the Elburn Metra train station more frequent. Beginning Jan. 1, the bus shuttle increased its routes from two trips in the morning and afternoon to five trips Monday through Friday, documents show.
“The benefits of this connection include the diversification and growth of economic opportunity for DeKalb, greater access and resources for residents to reach employment and recreation opportunities in Chicago, and increased access for Northern Illinois University (NIU) to grow its talent, build institutional relationships, and empower commuting students, faculty and staff,” the proposal reads.
The consulting company said that the study would also include studies to determine how potential railroad ridership fares and taxes would fuel DeKalb County and city revenue streams.
Ridership fares for in-city public transit buses was reinstated in spring 2022, after a two-year moratorium on the fare because of the COVID-19 pandemic.