Metra unveils 2021 construction projects, Peterson/Ridge station delayed

Inbound Rock Island District train rides over the 79th Street bridge, past the site of the future Auburn Park station (foreground.) Photo: Igor Studenkov
Inbound Rock Island District train rides over the 79th Street bridge, past the site of the future Auburn Park station (foreground.) Photo: Igor Studenkov

Metra announced a number of major construction projects for the 2021 construction season – but already, one of those construction projects has been pushed back a few months.

The plans unveiled on April 14 call for Metra to start construction on the long-awaited Peterson/Ridge station in Edgewater and Auburn Park station in Auburn-Gresham, as well as the raising of the Rock Island District Line embankment at the spot where the latter’s station platform would be built. As Block Club Chicago recently reported, the former project has been set back for at least a few months over groundwater management issues.

Other projects include making the 147th Street station in south suburban Harvey wheelchair accessible, rehabbing the North Chicago Metra station, and rebuilding several station platforms. Work will continue on the new inbound platform for the Union Pacific North Line’s Ravenwood station, as well as on  adding a third track on the Union Pacific West Line segment between West Chicago and Geneva. The plans also include a whole slew of smaller-scale platform, bridge and rail infrastructure replacement projects.

The New Metra Stations

Both the Peterson/Ridge and the Auburn Park stations have been in the works for over a decade, and advocacy for them by local residents has gone on even longer than that. The former would be located on the Union Pacific North Line, between, as the name suggests, Peterson and Ridge avenues. The later would have the station facility on the lot at the southeast corner of 79th Street and Lowe Avenue, with a single island platform spanning 79th street.

The intersection has a two-level embankment, with the Belt Railway of Chicago freight line bridging  79th Street and the RID Line going right above it. As part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program, Metra will be raising the RID bridge to create more clearance for the freight trains below. Since the platform would go over that part of the tracks, that project would presumably have to happen first.

Outbound Union Pacific North Line train rides past the site of the future Peterson/Ridge station. Photo: Igor Studenkov
Outbound Union Pacific North Line train rides past the site of the future Peterson/Ridge station. Photo: Igor Studenkov

Per Block Club, the issue with Peterson/Ridge station, the issue is that the station house and the kiss-n-ride was going to use permeable pavers, so that stormwater would seep into the ground – raising the city’s concerns that the stormwater could damage existing water mains. Until the Chicago Department of Water Management gives Metra a permit, the project is paused.

When I visited the two stations on April 23 and April 24, respectively, the future station sites had been cleared, though the Auburn Park site looks more bare and, unlike the Peterson/Ridge site, is completely fenced off.

Other Station Projects

In the south suburbs, Metra will be renovating the Metra Electric District Line’s 147th Street/Sibley Boulevard station in the city of Harvey (not to be confused with the Harvey station further south, which is located directly east of the Harvey Transportation Center, a major south-suburban Pace transit hub). Most notably, the station would get an elevator to make it accessible to people with disabilities, filling the ADA compliance gap between Harvey station and Ivanhoe station further north.

In the northern suburbs, Metra and North Chicago will be rehabbing the local station house, replacing the roof, windows and exterior sidings.

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Metra plans to replace this Milwaukee District North Line bridge over Milwaukee Avenue as part of the 2021 construction season. Photo: Igor Studenkov

In Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighborhood, Metra plans to replace the 122-year-old Milwaukee District North line bridge over Milwaukee Avenue, which is located directly north of the Grayland station. The bridge will be raised, requiring the station platforms to be raised as well. And Metra will make signal improvements further north at the Grayland interlocking, a spot near Kolmar Avenue where the Milwaukee District North Line and Union Pacific freight tracks cross.

Metra will also be replacing platforms at the Milwaukee District West Line’s Franklin Park station, the North Central Service line’s Mundelein station and the Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn stations on the SouthWest Service line.

Other Projects

Metra will be field-testing two technologies for controlling rail crossing gats.  In southwest suburban Mokena, where Metra has two stations – the Mokena/Front Street and Hickory Creek RID stations – the railroad will be testing Siemens technology company’s Smart Gate tech at five crossings. It will also be testing in-house technology on 14 crossing gates at Metra Electric’s South Chicago branch. Most of the branch’s crossing gates are located in the South Shore neighborhood, where the trains run in the middle of 71st Street and Exchange Avenue, with the crossing gates located at the median rather than in front of the intersections.

Metra stated that it will use the pilots to “evaluate the performance of these technologies in real-world applications and determine the costs and requirements for future capital investments.”

In the western suburbs, Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad project to add a third track on the previously two-track portions of the Union Pacific West Line between River Forest and Geneva will enter its final stretch. The previous phases of the project included adding a third track between River Forest and 25th Avenue in Melrose Park, new track crossover switches in Wheaton and Lombard, and new pedestrian gates and crossings.This year, the two railroads will add a third track between Kress Road in the city of West Chicago and Peck Road in the Geneva, past the city’s Metra station. As noted in the fact sheet, the Union Pacific West Line was one of the busiest rail lines in the nation in terms of passenger and freight rail traffic, and the third track will reduce the train bottlenecks.

Metra is also working rehabbing rail crossing infrastructure at several major rail junctions, including Rondout interlocking in Mundelein, where the Milwaukee District North and North Central Service lines cross. And Metra and Union Pacific will be rehabbing the Seeger interlocker in Des Plaines, at the spot where the Union Pacific Northwest Line and North Central Service Line tracks cross.

Metra, Union Pacific, and BNSF Railway plan to repave and rehab a total of 22 rail crossings in the city and the suburbs  Metra will also work with freight railroads to replace around 45,000 railroad ties at Metra Electric, Milwaukee District West, SouthWest Service and BNSF lines, with most of the tie replacement projects falling within Chicago city limits.

Overall, Metra is planning to spend $171.3 million in its 2021 capital project funds, with $47.3 million going toward station and parking improvements, $48.1 million allocated for bridges and track improvements, and $75.8 million being used for signal and communications system upgrades. The railroad has received additional funding from state grants, the freight railroads, and funding allocated for projections from previous years’ capital programs.

While Metra has been adding a handful of train runs here and there as society is reopening from COVID-19 shutdowns, service is still below pre-pandemic levels. Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said this lull will facilitate the construction projects. “Lower service levels due to the pandemic will help us move some of these track projects along more quickly and ultimately reduce inconvenience for our customers,” he said.

Click here for more information about the projects. For the most up-to-day construction notices, click here.

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