A petition from over 200 residents opposing the closure of the pedestrian tunnel beneath the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks at the village’s downtown train platform appears to have had an effect on officials in Riverside.

Rather than simply let the railroad shutter the tunnel, which allows pedestrians to cross underneath the railroad tracks on the west side of Longcommon Road, Village Manager Kathleen Rush has put out a call to firms for proposals on completing an engineering study of the tunnel.

Proposals were due back in village hall yesterday, and Rush said that the village would apply to the West Suburban Mass Transit District (WSMT) for a grant that would cover 75 percent of the engineering study fee. She had no estimate on what such a study would cost.

When complete the study would give trustees a preliminary tunnel design, suggest construction options and provide a detailed cost estimate on renovating the underpass. In addition, the study could provide information and drawings on what kind of platform changes would result from installing an ADA-compliant tunnel.

Rush hoped that the village could award a contract for the engineering study in February and have a completed engineering study in hand by the end of March.

In addition, that information could be used by the village to place an advisory referendum on the November ballot, asking voters whether they would either support designating a specific amount of village funds for the project or support a tax increase to fund the renovation. Results of advisory referendums are not binding.

In any case, by moving forward with the engineering study, Rush said that the BNSF will keep the pedestrian tunnel open for now.

“Essentially, they’d like us to have a plan in place by the end of 2006,” Rush said. “We could do a referendum in November. By that time, we should have the engineering information and alternatives.”

In addition, by having a detailed engineering study, the village could then proceed with grant requests from WSMT, the BNSF, Metra and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The village’s decision to pursue a detailed study and a possible advisory referendum is a sudden reversal of direction.

In September a BNSF railroad official notified Riverside, which is responsible for maintaining the tunnel, that it had until March 2006 to come up with a solution for rehabbing the tunnel or the railroad would shut it. Further deterioration of the tunnel could make the track bed unstable, according to the BNSF.

In December, village trustees agreed that the expense involved in keeping the 90-year-old tunnel open was just too high, and decided to let the railroad, which owns the tunnel, decide whether to keep it open or close it.

After a study by village staff concluded that rehabbing the tunnel would cost between $600,000 and $1.6 million, however, trustees all but abandoned the thought of taking on that expense.

But on Dec. 19, after Riverside resident Ingrid Lulich presented a petition bearing the names of over 200 people urging the village to reconsider its stance, the village changed course.

“It’s our obligation to make sure children have the safest route possible,” Lulich said at the time. “My biggest fear is taking away that option.”