Metra BNSF train to Oswego is back on track
Metra is unthawing engineering and environmental studies about extending Metra's BNSF Line west to Oswego after Kendall County leaders assured the agency they endorse the costly project.
Metra suspended work on the expansion last summer to assess the level of support in Kendall, which is not part of the six-county metro Chicago area that collects a regional sales tax to fund transit. That means Kendall residents would need to contribute to the proposed service expansion.
The studies will provide details about equipment and infrastructure needed to extend the BNSF Line and costs, Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said at a Wednesday meeting. Early estimates indicate the project could cost more than $200 million. Also to be figured in are operating costs.
"It's going to take a lot of money ... to build a railroad out there and Kendall County and the people of Kendall County that use this railroad will have to pay for this," Orseno said. "We want to make sure they have the tools they need to make an informed decision."
Former U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert secured a $7.5 million earmark for the project in the 2000s. Since then, Metra has approved about $2.7 million in consulting contracts and spent $843,000.
On May 4, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Plano Republican, took a poll of numerous Kendall municipal and county elected officials asking if they backed using the rest of the earmark to study the Oswego extension given that it would require residents to help pay for it.
An overwhelming number said they wanted the extension to move forward, Hultgren told Metra leaders in a May 6 letter.
"We are all delighted," Oswego Mayor Gail Johnson said. "When the studies are completed we will have the facts to make future decisions."
Those decisions involving a sales tax contribution or another funding mechanism will fund some of the costs but "the biggest hurdle is laying the rail," Johnson said, adding federal money is essential.
"I'm under no illusions the residents of Kendall County can pay for that," she said. "We'll have to put our negotiating caps on."
Metra's BNSF Line terminates in Aurora. The expansion could include stops in Montgomery, Oswego, Yorkville, Plano and Sandwich.