Metra has quashed a bid by the Village of Brookfield to double its fees for commuter parking. However, in exchange the commuter rail service and the West Suburban Mass Transit board have agreed to grant the village over $250,000 in grants for improvements to the Prairie Avenue train station platform and its commuter parking facilities.
Back in December 2005, the village board voted to raise the fees for parking in its commuter lots along the rail line and behind village hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave., from $1 to $2 per day, since parking rates hadn’t been raised in over 10 years. Village Manager Riccardo Ginex argued at the time that Brookfield was no longer covering its costs to maintain the lots and that it was seeking to recoup those costs with the increase.
However, while the village’s contract with Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad allows the village to charge up to $2.50 per parking space, any proposed increase needs the approval of the BNSF. But Metra, which has its own agreement with BNSF, balked at the increase and stymied the village from implementing the hike.
“Our position was that we were able to increase fees up to $2.50,” Ginex said. “Metra felt we should increase fees gradually.”
As a result of the impasse, Ginex and representatives of Metra and the West Suburban Mass Transit District began negotiating a deal that would address Metra’s wish for lower fees and Brookfield’s concerns over maintenance costs.
The result is a $222,000 grant from the WSMT for upgrades to the Prairie Avenue train station, the village hall commuter lot and the long-closed Brookfield Avenue pedestrian bridge over Salt Creek. In exchange, Brookfield will raise its commuter parking rates to $1.50 per day or $30 per month. That increase goes into effect immediately.
Ginex said there will be a grace period for people who already have purchased stickers and that the village wouldn’t start enforcing the new rates until July 19.
In addition, Metra will kick in $25,000 of its own money to help pay for the pedestrian bridge, which allows commuters access to the train station from the parking spaces on the north side of Brookfield Avenue. Work on the pedestrian bridge is likely to take place in 2007.
The village is currently preparing preliminary engineering for a new bridge, which is expected to cost roughly $220,000. The bulk of the project will be paid for through a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant the village received earlier this year. The village’s share of the cost was expected to be roughly $44,000. The new grants from Metra and WSMT will now cover that expense.
According to John Curin, Brookfield’s representative on the WSMT board, the grant money is part of the proceeds the district received through a sale of surplus passenger rail cars in 2005. About $150,000 has been set aside for the commuter lot behind village hall. Another $47,000 will be set aside for improvements such as bike racks, sprinklers and concrete work at the rail station.
Curin noted that it was a $300,000 grant from the WSMT that allowed Brookfield to pave the original gravel village hall commuter lot.
The money won’t be released to the village until Brookfield comes forward with formal plans for the improvements.
“The whole reason we did the [parking fee] increase was to pay for the improvements,” said Village President Michael Garvey. “This still allows us to increase the rates in the future, and this huge grant allows us to do better maintenance and improvements.”
Trustee Linda Stevanovich, who championed a lower parking fee increase last December, thanked Curin for his work on the grant, but contended that Brookfield had lost out on some $18,000 in revenue due to its insistence on the $2 rate.
“Had we talked seriously, in March we could have done this,” Stevanovich said. “So we’ve lost income from April, May and June. That’s $5,000 a month.”
She added that the proposed increase in fees to $2 a day had commuters leaving Brookfield for other towns, resulting in another $3,000 loss. Had the village taken her advice and approved a hike to $1.50, that wouldn’t have happened, she said.
“You always feel the need to spin things around to the negative,” Garvey said. “If we did what you wanted to do, we wouldn’t have gotten the grant money.”
Stevanovich responded that the WSMT is an agency that works with all administrations and that the village might have been able to win the grant money without asking commuters for the hike to $2.