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Slow train coming: Metra staff, politicians, and commuters celebrate opening of long-delayed Peterson/Ridge station

It took more than a decade to come to fruition, but the new Union Pacific North line stop is already getting great use.

Cutting the ribbon on the new station. Front row: Metra board member Mimi L. Rodman, Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48), Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), Metra board chair Romayne C. Brown, former 40th Ward alder Patrick O’Connor, Metra board member Stephen Palmer, and Metra CEO Jim Derwinski. Photo: John Greenfield

The transit agency held public meetings in Uptown and Edgewater.
The post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

Hopefully West Ridge, Edgewater, and Lincoln Square residents remembered that patience is a virtue, as they waited for more than ten years for Metra's new Peterson/Ridge station, 1780 W. Peterson Ave., to serve their communities. The commuter railroad, elected officials, and neighbors rejoiced over the completion of the Union Pacific North line stop, which opened on May 20, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning.

The $27.8 million project included a pair of new six-car platforms; heated concrete stairs and wheelchair ramps; a warming house; two shelters; an access drive; and lots of car and bicycle parking. It was bankrolled with $15 million from the state's Rebuild Illinois capital program, with the remainder of the cash coming from the Federal Transit Administration. Read more about the station design in previous Streetsblog coverage by Igor Studenkov.

Existing bike racks at the station got good use today, and orange paint dots indicate that the Chicago Department of Transportation is installing more (rain sheltered) racks in the Peterson Avenue viaduct. Photos: John Greenfield

The new station was discussed for over a decade, and took more than two-and-a-half years to construct. That was about a year longer than planned, and the project cost roughly $5 million more than expected, according to a Tribune report last month by Sarah Freishtat.

The new platform, looking south. Photo: John Greenfield

So what took so long?

"I'm glad it's finally done!" local alder Andre Vasquez (40th) told Streetsblog this morning. "This was like, I wouldn't say a CTA-level delay, but it's completed, so that's awesome... We kind of showed up on the last leg of it. [Ald. Vasquez took office in 2019.] During the [Governor Bruce] Rauner era there were funding challenges. It took a lot of the state legislators to get the funding and then coordinate different agencies and departments. That was just at the beginning. When I showed up, [the delays were caused by] underground [utilities] conflicts when they were doing work."

Harry Osterman, the former alder of the adjacent 48th Ward who didn't run for reelection last year, was present during the early days of the project. "There were lots of different pieces to the puzzle. Initially it was making sure Metra, as an organization got onboard, and they fully embraced it," he told Streetsblog. "And making sure that the land acquisitions that were required worked out. And funding was one of the pieces, then construction, and community buy-in." He added that in recent years the COVID-19 epidemic slowed things down.

"While it's taken a long time, it's going to have a transformative effect on our community," Osterman added. "It's going to lead to fewer cars on [DuSable] Lake Shore Drive, to more small businesses opening up on Clark Street [about two blocks east]. So it's been worth the wait... In two years when the Red and Purple Modernization [of CTA 'L' lines] is complete, Edgewater is going to be sandwiched between the best public transportation in the city, so it's an exciting time."

Checking out materials about Metra projects in the station's warming house. Photo: John Greenfield

Asked about Ald. Vasquez's comment about the Peterson/Ridge station project's funding challenges under the Rauner administration, Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis gave the following response. "In general there was a very tight capital squeeze during those years. The last capital bill had been passed in 2009. We were spending over $400 million on Positive Train Control [federally mandated automatic train protection systems], and what we expected from that bill got trimmed back by almost $300 million. So there was just a real tight capital squeeze in those years, and that was primarily responsible for the delay."

But Gillis maintained that the proof is in the pudding. "I was here on opening day, and everybody I talked to was just ecstatic about it. Just talking to the first riders who got on the first train, some of them were Red Line riders, some of them were Ravenswood [Metra station, 1.5 miles south] riders, and they were all just happy to have something close to them, convenient to them, to get downtown."

Current 48th Ward alder Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth also gave the new station high praise. "It's beautiful, it's accessible, it's convenient," she told Streetsblog, adding that she'd like to see one more improvement. "It needs a Divvy [bike-share] docking station." She said Ald. Vasquez has asked for one, and Divvy and Metra are trying to determine a location. Manaa-Hoppenworth recently got a Divvy membership after her vintage Comet cruiser was stolen.

A UP-N train arrives at the station. Photo: John Greenfield

The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with a benediction by Rev. Bart Winters from Misericordia, a home for people with disabilities located just north of the station. Misericordia staff were handing out coupons for the organization's Hearts and Flour bakery and cafe at 6130 N. Ravenswood Ave., across the street from the Metra stop.

"Today we give You thanks for all the people who made this station possible," Winters said. "For the civil servants, for the workers, and for the workers who will be working on the trains themselves. We thank you for all their hard work in making this possible. And pray that by Your grace you'll guide all who will use this station and these trains and be the companion to sustain them on their way. By Your favor, protect them from all adversity so that they may arrive safely at their destination and accomplish what they set out to do."

Next Metra CEO Jim Derwinski took the podium, noting that less than a month after it opened, Peterson/Ridge is already up to 300 riders during rush hours during peak days. "That's incredible to have a station that's already that full. And that's a clear [reflection of] the fact that this thing had to get built. We had to do it."

Several current and former local and state elected officials who were involved with making the project happen stepped up to give remarks. Here are a few of the notable ones.

"This is timely for many reasons," said State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8th), chair the Senate's Transportation Committee. He recently introduced legislation to merge the CTA, Pace, and Metra into one transit agency, and provide an additional $1.5 billion in funding for public transportation as our region faces a looming $730 million transit fiscal cliff. "It's a long time coming, but also it's a proof of concept for what we all know is coming, a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine and rethink, and double down on public transit in the [Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the three systems] region. Looking at what we have done today is going to help make the case as we move forward."

Metra Deputy Executive Director Janice R. Thomas, the event's M.C., and Sen. Ram Villivalam. Photo: John Greenfield

State Senator Mike Simmons reminisced about using transit as a teen while living a mile south of the new station in a home with no car. "I grew up taking the buses and trains. I grew up riding my bike because it was the only way that I could have any freedom in a household with an over-protective, loving mother. And so I would ride up and down Foster Avenue, and I would go through all-segregated neighborhoods, and I would go so far away that it would get dark out and I would have no way home."

Sen. Mike Simmons addresses the crowd. Photo: John Greenfield

Once that happened after Simmons made his way to a forest preserve in suburban Northbrook. "And on that one day 25 years ago, I was able to get home because there was a local Metra station. The thing was, back then you couldn't take bikes on Metra, and the crew felt sorry for me, and I said, 'Hey, I gotta get home, I'm 15 years old,' and I was able to get home on a Metra train." He praised the potential of Metra to help people of diverse backgrounds explore the region, and called for a round of applause for the railroad's new Bikes on All Trains policy.

When it was his turn to talk, Ald. Vasquez credited and thanked previous 40th Ward alder Patrick O'Connor, whom Vasquez defeated in the 2019 election, for advocating for the new station years ago. "It was my honor to land the plane that would have never taken off if it wasn't for you."

O'Connor addresses the attendees. Photo: John Greenfield

O'Connor said he grew up not far from this location, back when it was a lot used for fly dumping, and he and his brothers and friends used plywood and two-by-fours to build a clubhouse here. "I'm thrilled with the tremendous undertaking," he said. "This is a culmination of a lot of time and effort on the parts of so many people. As all of the previous speakers have said, it was a true team effort. I think the Cubs and the Sox could take a look at what we've done here and try and pull themselves together and be a better team if they follow our strengths."

Despite the delay, by giving more Chicagoans and people in other parts of the region easier car-free access to jobs, education, retail, recreation, and entertainment, the Peterson/Ridge station will, in fact, improve the community.

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