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updated: 8/24/2017 9:40 PM

Naperville cow tunnel neighbors await Fifth Avenue redevelopment plans

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  • Naperville resident Susan Ahlfeld says she's interested to learn what is planned for 5th Avenue redevelopment near the Naperville Metra station before deciding whether neighbors should push for reopening a tunnel that used to allow cows to cross under the BNSF railroad tracks.

      Naperville resident Susan Ahlfeld says she's interested to learn what is planned for 5th Avenue redevelopment near the Naperville Metra station before deciding whether neighbors should push for reopening a tunnel that used to allow cows to cross under the BNSF railroad tracks.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • The southern entrance to the cow tunnel a group of Naperville residents is considering reopening is located near a gazebo in the Naperville Station subdivision of row houses just west of the DuPage Children's Museum.

      The southern entrance to the cow tunnel a group of Naperville residents is considering reopening is located near a gazebo in the Naperville Station subdivision of row houses just west of the DuPage Children's Museum.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 

A tunnel that once served as a path for cows under the BNSF railroad tracks in Naperville could be a transportation option of the future.

But first, residents behind recent talk of reopening the tunnel to provide a safe north/south pathway for pedestrians want to hear what's planned for a major redevelopment project nearby.

The now-closed tunnel is between Washington Street on the east and Mill Street on the west, connecting the spot where Webster Street dead ends on both sides of the tracks.

Supporters say it could serve as a link for bicyclists and people on foot between their homes, downtown Naperville and Ogden Avenue. But making it usable again could cost between $1 million and $2 million, residents have estimated.

The tunnel sits a couple of blocks west of several properties along Fifth Avenue that the city plans to redevelop into a fresh hub of activity centered on the Naperville Metra station.

So when cow tunnel neighbors gathered Wednesday, they decided they need more information about the Fifth Avenue plans before progressing, said Susan Ahlfeld, who lives near the tunnel north of the tracks.

"We know this is a big project," Ahlfeld said. "We're not looking to do this overnight. That's why we want to take it slow and get the whole community's input."

The community is soon to get details about the Fifth Avenue redevelopment process by which the city hopes to revitalize 13 acres of properties it owns near the train station. The city council has scheduled a workshop at 6 p.m. Monday in the municipal center to go over the project and allow the developer officials are considering hiring -- Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies -- to make a presentation.

Sites involved in the redevelopment zone include the DuPage Children's Museum on the south side of the tracks, which sits slightly east of the southern exit of the cow tunnel. Ahlfeld said she would be interested to learn what the Fifth Avenue redevelopment has in store for the museum property before deciding how to proceed.

"Right now, it's just finding out if a tunnel make sense and where should the tunnel be," she said.

No matter what is built near the Metra station in the future, it will have important effects on traffic by car, bike and foot for residents in the area, said Mary Lou Wehrli, a Naperville resident and DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioner.

Wednesday's meeting about the cow tunnel gathered about 50 such residents as well as a couple of city council and Naperville park board members. Neighbors have said they could turn to the city, park district or both for help funding, designing and constructing a potential cow tunnel rebirth. But so far, officials with both agencies say the project is not in their capital spending plans.

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