The West Suburban Mass Transit District (WSMTD) board is expected to decide next week whether or not it will help fund a study of options for keeping Riverside’s pedestrian rail underpass open.

Riverside Public Works Director Michael Hullihan pitched the study to the WSMTD board on Feb. 17, based on a proposal the village received from Strand Associates, an engineering firm headquartered in Madison, Wis. The cost of completing such a study, Hullihan said, would be $54,000.

And based on the initial reaction of those board members, Riverside may have to seek other options for funding the study, which would include everything from design and construction options to preliminary drawings.

“They didn’t take a vote, but the discussion was very negative,” Hullihan said. “They said it didn’t sound like a good candidate for funding compared to [several of the nine other projects presented that day].”

According to Hullihan and WSMTD attorney Janet Stiven, the transit board was leery about expending such a large amount of money on a tunnel that, according to the village, doesn’t get much use.

“My recollection was that from a cost/benefit standpoint, a low number of people use that tunnel,” Stiven said. “I think the initial reaction was that, when you’re talking about limited public funds, you really need to scrutinize projects on where the money can be most effective.”

Notwithstanding, Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush said that the village will again make its case at the March 15 of the WSMTD board.

“They haven’t given us a firm no,” Rush said. “If it doesn’t take at that point, we’ll have to take it back to the village board and ask if they want to complete it on their own. It’s a policy decision.”

In September 2005, Riverside received notice from the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad that the 90-year-old pedestrian underpass that runs between the north and south train platforms needed to be either rehabilitated or closed.

According to the terms of a contract between the village and railroad, the BNSF owns the tunnel, which runs under its right-of-way. However, Riverside is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.

Originally, the BNSF gave Riverside until March 2006 to come up with a rehabilitation plan for the tunnel. In December 2005, Hullihan presented a study to village trustees suggesting several options for keeping the tunnel open, ranging in cost between roughly $600,000 and $1.6 million. Seeing no way to fund such a project, village trustees agreed to simply close the tunnel.

That decision touched off a petition campaign by a local resident, who gathered over 200 signatures in support of finding a way to keep the tunnel open. In response, Rush sent out a request for proposals for completing an engineering study for rehabilitating the tunnel in order to get firmer costs for such an endeavor.

Hullihan said that he’s convinced that his low-end estimate, which contemplated installing a steel lining inside the tunnel, isn’t practical. Depending on whether the project is mandated to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), he sees the price tag being closer to $1.5 million, if not higher.

“My conclusion was that the steel lining would make the tunnel too small to be workable,” Hullihan said. “If it needs to comply with ADA, there will have to be 70 feet of ramping on the south side and 100 feet of ramping on the north side. Putting in that ramp will have a pretty big visual impact on one of the most historic parts of the village.”

The engineering study would demand soil testing, foundation testing and fairly complete engineering drawings.

“It’s pretty specialized engineering,” Hullihan said. “We’d have to go to 25-percent design to find out if the method is feasible. Whether it’s ADA or non-ADA, it’ll still have an impact.”

The study would also need to produce drawings that could be the focus of any community meetings regarding the issue.

“In making the final decision, everybody has to be aware of the true cost and will have to be aware of what it’ll look like,” Hullihan said. “That’s the objective of the whole engineering study.”

That an entirely separate issue from how the village would fund construction if such a study proves the rehabilitation is feasible. Hullihan has applied for a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant for construction. Brookfield recently applied for and won a $176,000 CMAQ grant to repair its failing pedestrian bridge over Salt Creek on Brookfield Avenue.

CMAQ grants demand matching funds of 20 percent of a project. If the tunnel rehabilitation ends up costing $1.6 million, for example, Riverside would be on the hook for $320,000 of that total.