Metra expansion plan gains traction
A proposal to expand Metra service west on the BNSF Line to Oswego is gathering steam with the possibility of adding a stop in Yorkville.
Metra board directors on Friday supported increasing a consulting contract by $439,631 for a total of $2.26 million to review the Yorkville option. The funding for the engineering study comes from a federal grant, earmarked in 2003 by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Yorkville.
The agency has been considering locating stations in Oswego but Yorkville is being added since it offers an optimal site for a yard to house trains. Montgomery is also in the mix as a new station.
But how to pay for operating the expansion and related construction -- since most of the route is outside the six-county region that Metra serves -- is an unknown. A sales tax in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties subsidizes part of the costs of running Metra, but it isn't levied in Kendall County.
Oswego and Yorkville are located in Kendall, while Montgomery is in Kane County.
"Kendall County will ultimately need to take this information ... and figure out how to make this happen ... so that it does not occur using six-county area tax revenues," Executive Director Alex Clifford said.
"This is a good project but any expansion with our current needs is problematic," Metra Director and former Kane County Chairman Mike McCoy said. "There's a lot of hurdles to jump through before it comes to fruition."
Metra has many requests for expansion of service in the six-county region including more express trains on existing lines and more stations in McHenry County.
"We've got needs in Marengo," said Director Jack Schaffer of Cary, but he noted that going outside the six-county region is not unprecedented. Metra already goes to Kenosha in Wisconsin. "If Kendall County can work out a system to pay for their share, I see no reason why we would not go to Oswego."
Preliminary estimates from 2007 projected that a Oswego station alone would draw about 140 riders a day.
"Extending to Yorkville makes all the sense in the world, if we do it," Director Norm Carlson of Lake Forest said.
Still, experts said the challenges involved in negotiating an agreement that ensures Kendall County towns pay their fair share, deciding what constitutes a fair share, getting approvals from stakeholders and finding a guaranteed source of revenue at a time of economic restraint are mammoth.
State law stipulates that operating costs for any expansion beyond the six counties must be born by the benefiting municipalities, Regional Transportation Authority Chief of Staff Jordan Matyas explained.
"We're looking forward to seeing what the study finds," he said.
Oswego Village Administrator Steve Jones said the Metra station was "extremely important. Up until the housing crash, Oswego and the immediate area was one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. As residents move to the area, they have some expectations for transportation for employment and cultural matters ... just being linked to the city."
Consequently, Oswego built a popular park-and-ride site that ferries commuters to the Aurora Metra stop. It caters not only to Oswego residents but workers from nearby towns.
Regarding contributing to the project, Jones said the hope was that federal or state grants could help pay for capital costs such as stations or siding. With the park and ride, which is located at the site of the proposed station, Oswego already has some infrastructure in place.
As for operating costs, Jones said the Metra study will let the village know what to expect so it can plan accordingly. "One of the most common questions I get is, when is Metra coming to Oswego?" he said.
The full Metra board must vote on the consulting contract increase later this month.