It’s getting real: Metra awards construction contract for Auburn Park station

Rendering of the Auburn Park station, looking east.
Rendering of the Auburn Park station, looking east.

The planned Auburn Park station in the Auburn-Gresham community has been in the works for over a decade, and advocacy for it by local residents has gone on even longer than that. While a groundbreaking ceremony took place in October 2019, the actual station construction work still hasn’t started.

Officials broke ground on the site of the new station in October 2019. Photo: David Zegeye
Officials broke ground on the site of the new station in October 2019. Photo: David Zegeye

However, yesterday the project took one step closer to becoming a reality, as Metra announced its board has approved a $28.2 million construction contract to Orland Park-based John Burns Construction. Burns committed to a goal of 30 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation for this project in a majority-Black Far South Side neighborhood.

The station will be built on a vacant 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 Metra’s Rock Island District line going right above that.

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 station platform will go over that part of the tracks, the CREATE project will presumably have to happen first. Metra awarded the engineering contract for the CREATE work in July 2020. According to a Chicago Tribune report, the station construction bid documents require Burns to complete the job within two years.

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

“I know I’m speaking for the members of the Auburn-Gresham community when I say I’m very pleased to see progress on the Auburn Park Metra Station,” stated local state senator Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago), who advocated for $30 million in state funding for the project. “Our South Side communities have long suffered from disinvestment and unequal access to basic amenities like public transportation. This Metra stop will help connect local families to economic opportunities and other resources our community needs to grow and thrive.”

“We are excited to be one step closer to making this new station a reality for the residents of the Auburn-Gresham community,” said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski in statement. “We are sincerely grateful to Sen. Collins for her tireless and passionate work to move this project along for the benefit of her constituents.”

The new, wheelchair-accessible station will feature:

  • A large landscaped plaza with benches, trees, and canopy
  • A vendor building with glass storefronts and “a bright, open atmosphere”
  • A living green wall along the existing retaining wall
  • A staircase and two elevators between the street and platform levels
  • A 480-foot-long platform with “a bright, polycarbonate canopy” and two shelters
  • A snow melt system that Metra says will keep the platform clear without the need for deicing chemicals
  • An 84-space parking lot with a kiss-n-ride drop-off area and a decorative fence to screen the lot from neighboring homes
  • Covered bike parking
  • Roadway “improvements” to facilitate driving to the station

At the time of the groundbreaking, Streetsblog contributor David Zegeye wrote, “Unfortunately, car parking and a drop-off roundabout will take up a significant chunk of the site. This interrupts portions of the plaza and encourages residents to drive to the station, making the area less pedestrian-friendly than it should be. However, the station is still in the design phase, so hopefully the final design will be less car-centric.” Unfortunately, judging from the rendering Metra provided today, shown at the top of this post, there have been no major changes since then to make the layout less car-centric.

Still, David argued that “Metra took a thoughtful approach towards the design,” including the plaza, the retail space, and plentiful bike parking that Derwinski said was a response to requests from people who ride bikes. And David noted that “The Auburn Park station will bring many benefits to the neighborhood” because “residents will… be able to reach the Loop in less than 15 minutes, greatly expanding transit and job access.”

This article includes previous reporting by Igor Studenkov.

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