$4.5M needed for pedestrian underpass to make West Lake Forest train station safer

The June train fatality at the West Lake Forest Train Station has reinforced Mayor Don Schoenheider’s belief that the city needs a pedestrian underpass at the depot.

City staff and others have been working on the project since 2009. The goal is to create a safe way for pedestrians to get from one side of the tracks to the other. If the station has a pedestrian underpass, the city hopes to secure an Amtrak stop — which would be the only Lake County stop between Chicago and Milwaukee — at the station.

“We can’t get the Amtrak stop without the underpass,” Schoenheider said. “It’s really a combination of safety and economic development.”

Schoenheider said he was “terribly saddened” to learn that Mark Worden was struck and killed by an oncoming freight train when he crossed the tracks the evening of June 19.

“It further reinforced my desire to make this underpass a reality,” Schoenheider said.

To date, the city has received just over $2 million in grant money toward the more than $6.5 million officials estimate will be needed to build an ADA-compliant underpass just south of the station on Telegraph Road.

The underpass would require construction of a wheelchair switchback on the west side of the tracks, a tunnel and a connection to the existing wheelchair switchback on the east side of the tracks.

Currently, there is a street-level pedestrian crossing just north of the station. The crossing is located at a break in cyclone fencing that separates the two tracks. There is signage at the crossing alerting pedestrians to watch for ongoing trains and yellow lights that flash when a train is approaching.

Lake Forest police surveillance video from June 19 shows the Worden, 59, of Chicago, crossing the first set of tracks on foot, then speeding up to try to beat the oncoming freight train, according to Lake Forest Deputy Chief Karl Walldorf. Worden was dropped off at the station and was waiting for a Metra train to Chicago, officials said.

If the pedestrian underpass is constructed, the street-level crossing will be dismantled and the fencing restored to make it impossible for anyone to cross the tracks at grade level, according to Lake Forest resident Norm Carlson, a railroad historian who has been working with the city on the possible Amtrak stop and underpass for several years.

Carlson’s first reaction when he heard of the June fatality was: “Not again.”

Having met with the families of two women who were struck and killed by trains at the West Lake Forest Train Station over the past five years, Carlson said, “I don’t ever want to have to have those conversations again.”

Schoenheider is hoping that once the next phase of engineering is complete this fall, the project will finally move forward after years of work by city staff, Carlson and former State Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest resident.

“Our hope is that we can secure some funding over the next year such that, in a perfect world, we could start some kind of construction work in 2015,” Schoenheider said. “I really don’t want to spend city dollars on this.”

Assistant City Manager Carina Walters has worked on the Amtrak stop and underpass since the City Council first identified it as a priority in 2009.

“We’re still trying to identify any grant funding,” Walters said, to make up for the estimated $4.5 million shortfall. “The project doesn’t go forward until the funding is secured. This is why we’re working really hard with other state and federal sources to help close the gap.”

The project has proved particularly challenging because of the number of agencies Lake Forest has to coordinate with, according to Walters.

“It’s not only Lake Forest. We have to work with Metra, Canadian Pacific, Amtrak, WISDOT [the Wisconsin Department of Transportation], IDOT and other municipalities,” he said. “It’s a very large project with large magnitude.”

Since the Amtrak stop requires the safe underpass, the city has broadened its appeal to neighboring municipalities and businesses in what officials say would be a regional benefit to employees and employers.

“We think we have a very good case to make,” Garrett said. “It’s not just a Lake Forest issue. It’s really a regional issue. It will translate into keeping jobs and also attracting new businesses.”

Garrett started working with the Illinois Department of Transportation and others on the project while she was still in office. She has continued that work on a volunteer basis.

“I can’t think of a more important issue for Lake Forest to be working on,” Garrett said. “I’ll do whatever I can to make this project a reality.”

In the past few years, “we’ve made good progress,” Garrett said, noting state and federal support and growing support from other elected officials and regional businesses.

If additional money is not secured by April 2015, when the city would need to go out to bid on the project, “then, quite honestly, the project would most likely be put on hold until we find the remaining funds,” Walters said.

If the funding was there, Schoenheider said, “I’d like to start tomorrow.”

0 Comments

Do you have the scariest house on the block? Or the cutest kid in costume? Share your Halloween photos with us! Click here to submit them.


Modal