Glen Ellyn's wish: A big grant for new Metra station, pedestrian tunnel
A Metra survey of ridership data last fall confirmed what Glen Ellyn commuters already knew about their bustling train station.
The 1960s-era depot handled 1,929 weekly boardings at the time of the survey -- making the Glen Ellyn stop the ninth-busiest of the 233 Metra stations ranked outside downtown Chicago.
It's a distinction village officials hope will boost their efforts to secure funding to replace the station they say is far too small, outdated and ill-equipped to handle the growing passenger volume.
In mid-July, the village expects to find out whether the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has put the station reconstruction and a new pedestrian tunnel on an initial list of projects recommended for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, but CMAP won't release an official announcement of grant recipients until November.
The entire project -- much broader in scope than a new station -- could cost $20 million, an estimate based on a preliminary engineering study. The village is seeking $14.4 million in federal funds through CMAP's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement and Surface Transportation grant programs.
Engineers say the pedestrian tunnel is a crucial safety improvement that would allow commuters and downtown visitors to bypass the Union Pacific railroad tracks to the west of a new station.
The existing, 2,500-square-foot depot sits on Union Pacific property just south of Crescent Boulevard and Forest Avenue. But most of the commuter parking is south of the station. Pedestrians have to walk several hundred feet west to Main Street or east to Park Boulevard, where there are grade-level crossings over the tracks, a village-hired engineering firm noted in a 2017 design proposal.
Commuters also have to scramble across the tracks to make their train when they're given little advance notice that Union Pacific is switching the inbound platform to the outbound side and vice versa as rail traffic dictates. That happens fairly frequently.
But a new grade separation via the tunnel would eliminate those safety issues, said Rich Daubert, the village's engineer. The underpass, with ramps on either side, also would improve accessibility for people who use wheelchairs or strollers and encounter obstacles such as aging stairs to the front of the station facing Crescent Boulevard.
"There's some significant ADA issues with that whole structure getting to it because it's on a hill, which makes it a little challenging, too," Village Manager Mark Franz said. "It's served its purpose, and it's just time for an investment."
Overall, the project seeks to ease congestion around the station site with reconfigured traffic patterns and new drop-off and pickup areas. New, enclosed warming stations, platforms and a plaza with bike parking would make the site more commuter-friendly.
"We're doing everything we can to try to improve our train station," Daubert said. "It really is in dire need of basic repairs to stairs and railings, to improve accessibility. And one of the main things we're doing as part of the project is increasing the size of the train station."
The new depot -- 50% larger in capacity -- would have more room for waiting areas in response to increasing ridership demand.
There's also a whopping 800-person waiting list for residents who want to reserve commuter parking spaces, Franz said.
As far as next steps, the village has indicated it's willing to fully fund the second stage of the engineering study as evidence of "the commitment to this project" should Glen Ellyn secure grants for construction of the new station site during this CMAP application cycle, Daubert said.
Should that study advance quickly enough, the village could tentatively look to bid the project in March 2023. The Illinois Department of Transporation ultimately would administer the construction contracts.
"It really needs to happen within a reasonable time frame because the station is getting beyond its useful life," Daubert said.