Metra: New plan would address most Homewood train station problems

  This graphic shows an how the Homewood train 
  station would change if a renovation plan is 
  enacted. The image was part of Metra's presentation 
  Monday at Homewood village hall.
(Provided image)
 

A plan to renovate and reshape the Homewood train station, unveiled at a public meeting Monday, was met with generally positive reviews from residents and village officials.

With three railroads sharing the 94-year-old facility, the project will be expensive and complex, according to Metra officials and a project architect who presented an overview of the plan.

The plan is designed to improve safety, accessibility, convenience and aesthetics of the facility, according to Ted Haug, principal in charge of design with Legat Architects.
 

  Homewood resident and 
  rail commuter Kathryn 
  Kraynik talks with 
  architect Ted Haug, right, 
  about traffic problems on 
  the west side of the 
  Homewood train station. 

  (Photo by Eric Crump/
  H-F Chronicle)
  

If the project ends up following the conceptual plan, riders will eventually see some big changes in the station, including a new east entrance building, relocation of some parking spots on the west side, rebuilt canopies and platforms, major renovations to the pedestrian tunnel, the elimination of one elevator and the addition of two ramps.

Amtrak officials were unable to attend, but Lynne Corrao, Metra director of government affairs, provided an overview of the Amtrak portion of the plan.

Amtrak will be rebuilding its platform and the stairs leading to it. It also will build a ramp leading to the pedestrian tunnel, and that will solve one of the station's most serious problems. Currently, there is no west side (Park Avenue) access to the platforms for disabled people.

Haug presented the Metra portion of the project, noting that redesigning the east side (Harwood Avenue) of the station would help with traffic flow and the aesthetic appeal of the facility when viewed from Ridge Road in downtown Homewood. The plan also calls for replacing the east elevator with a ramp for improved accessibility.

The biggest challenge for Metra is solving the problems presented by the tunnel, he said. It currently is plagued by water leakage, odor and poor lighting.

After the presentations, residents and riders in the audience had questions. The first was about the timeline for completing the project.

Corrao said Amtrak has funding in place and work could begin in 2018. Its portion of the project could take several years to complete.

The Metra portion does not have a specific timetable yet because full funding has not been obtained. Metra has $4 million set aside, but the project is expected to cost much more than that. Village Manager Jim Marino said the best estimate right now is about $13 million.

"We're all going to be looking at every opportunity we know of to put a funding package together," Corrao said. "We're looking for economies, but we're also looking for something that's going to last a long period of time and be something that's acceptable to the community."

Another question came from Nick Fonner, who uses a wheelchair and asked about the design of the ramps and about current elevator reliability.

Haug said the ramps would be designed to ensure they meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for length and grade.

Corrao acknowledged that keeping elevators operating has been a problem for Metra. She said that's the reason the changes to the station will feature two new ramps and the elimination of the east elevator.

After the meeting, Fonner said he was pleased with the plan to improve accessibility.

"I like the ramps idea," he said, and noted that the design looked adequate. "My other concern is that they better maintain or upgrade the current elevator. They didn't give a time frame" for the new ramps, he said, and the elevators remain a problem.

Kathryn Kraynik, a frequent rail commuter who lives near the west side of the station on Ridge Road, asked whether more could be done to manage traffic, especially when Amtrak trains arrive.

"That whole intersection turns into a parking lot," she said, referring to the intersection of Park and Ridge Streets.

Haug said planners spent a good deal of time wrestling with the traffic situation on the west side, but he said options were limited by space available.

"We can certainly look at that," he said.

Overall, though, Kraynik said the plan looks good. She appreciates Homewood's rail service and said it was the primary reason she moved to the village.

Homewood officials had hoped for solutions to the tunnel problems that could have included a complete rebuild or replacing it with a pedestrian bridge, but they seemed pleased with the solutions proposed in the plan.

"They did look comprehensively at the alternatives," Marino said. "This is the one that is cost effective and feasible."

Mayor Richard Hofeld said he was glad to see the various problems addressed, from lighting to ventilation.

"It looks very nice," he said. "They've really addressed the major concerns with the tunnel."

Hofeld said the Amtrak investment in the station was a positive sign, too. In answer to a question from the audience, Corrao said the project was the second biggest in Amtrak's system right now.

"We're delighted that Amtrak is going to make the west side handicapped accessible in the near future," Hofeld said. "And we're glad Amtrak's restablishing that Homewood will remain a station."

Editor's note: More details about the plan to follow.


Related stories:
hfchronicle.com/tag/homewood-train-station
 

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