Consultants for Bears say Arlington Park plan won't take away Metra parking

Amid concerns the Chicago Bears' redevelopment of Arlington Park would displace commuter parking at the popular Metra station nearby, consultants working for the team are trying to reassure the public and Arlington Heights officials that the parking will be preserved, and there may be even more in the end.

At present there are 1,032 parking spaces in surface lots next to the Arlington Park station and on Commuter Drive, which is parallel to the train tracks. Preliminary plans released by the Bears provide for 43 more spaces, according to Peter Lemmon, a transportation engineer with consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates.

"We've had some conversations with Metra. The intent is that we would make sure that they're whole throughout the process from A to Z," Lemmon told village trustees at a meeting last week when conceptual plans were discussed.

The initial master site plan calls for at least two parking garages - one at the corner of Northwest Highway and Wilke Road, and the other southeast of the train station - where the ground floors and perhaps the first two levels would be reserved for commuters, according to Paul Milana, an architect with Hart Howerton, the master planning agency the team has retained.

More parking spaces would be available by extending Commuter Drive through the development site; the street currently runs alongside the old horse barns, but ends at the Metra commuter lot.

"As a development of this nature is phased out, that's the final build out scenario," Milana said. "So there may be periods of time where there's some surface parking and then ultimately that surface parking is reaccommodated in the structure. That's what this master plan is depicting."

Where to park and how to get to and from are a few of the transportation-related aspects of the $5 billion redevelopment plan the engineering consultants are designing now.

In addition to a domed stadium and parking lots on a 120-acre northwest portion of the property near Route 53 and Northwest Highway, an adjoining transit-oriented, mixed-use district would be built on the 206 acres to the south and east, near Euclid and Wilke roads and up to the existing Metra station. It could include restaurants, stores, offices, hotels, a performance venue, a fitness center, townhouses and multifamily housing, parks and open spaces.

There was talk at least a year ago - when the Bears announced their pending $197.2 million purchase of the racetrack - of moving the train station further northwest along the line to accommodate the crowds and many more trains that would be expected for a Bears game. That followed the village's experience two decades ago when Arlington Park hosted the Breeders' Cup, and stacked train cars waiting to drop off passengers blocked car traffic on Wilke.

But Lemmon said moving the station - or adding a second one for gamedays - isn't in the plan right now. Early discussions with Metra have focused on improving access to the existing station by bringing back a pedestrian underpass or creating a grade-separated crossing so fans don't have to walk across the tracks.

In addition to the on-site parking near the stadium, Lemmon said it's possible there could be off-site parking a mile or two away, and shuttle buses to bring fans to the stadium during games and other events.

Pace bus service currently ends at the Rolling Meadows courthouse across Euclid Avenue, but the team has had early conversations with the transit agency about the potential to circulate through the 326-acre site and establish pickup and drop-off locations there, Lemmon said.

The planners also are calling for Commuter Drive and other streets within the development to be "multimodal."

"We want people to be able to drive and park nearby, but we also want people to comfortably be able to walk or bike," Lemmon said. "The overall site has really good bike access around the perimeter of Arlington Park, but we need to start knitting that into the site itself."

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