After years of watching the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad fail to maintain the tunnel, stairs and shelter of the Congress Park Metra station in a timely manner, and with the village of Brookfield planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the area near the station, village trustees voted unanimously on June 8 to take on those responsibilities as well as the area south of the train line, between the tunnel entrance and Burlington Avenue.
The village has lease agreements with the BNSF at all three Metra stations in the village. The stations themselves are owned by the railroad, which leases them to the village at a nominal fee, but requires the village to maintain them.
The prior lease at Congress Park required the village to maintain the platforms and a sidewalk that connected the tunnel with Southview Avenue on the north side of the tracks. But maintenance of the tunnel, which connects the north and south rights of way, remained the responsibility of the BNSF, according to the village.
“I think there were some questions in the past about whose responsibility [the tunnel and stairway] was, and it seemed like it fell to the railroad, but it’d be tough to get them out there,” said Village President Kit Ketchmark at the June meeting of the village board. “So, now it will fall to us.”
The amended lease expires Sept. 30, 2039.
Within the past month, the village has constructed a new sidewalk along the south side of Burlington Avenue west of DuBois Boulevard and installed covered bike shelters in what was the first phase of a multi-phase project to improve the south side of the station area.
Later this summer, the village expects to break ground on the second phase of the project, a $340,000 improvement which will include building a new parking lot in the Burlington Avenue right-of-way west of DuBois Boulevard.
Last week, Village Planner Elyse Vukelich and representatives from Hitchcock Design Group, the firm hired to design the improvements, visited the station to nail down what improvements will be made to the tunnel and shelter areas.
Vukelich told trustees on June 8 that the BNSF will not allow the village to make any structural improvements to the station. The final scope of work is expected to be finalized this week.
Part of this year’s station/tunnel improvement project is being funded through a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant. The rest of the cost will be assigned to the Congress Park Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, which includes the station area.
The final phase of the project, for which there’s no schedule yet, involves creating a small brick paver plaza in front of the tunnel north of Burlington Avenue, which can be used as a pickup/drop-off area for commuters.
That work can’t begin, however, until the BNSF reconstructs a crumbing concrete retaining wall supporting the south platform area, facing Burlington Avenue. The railroad reportedly has promised to repair the retaining wall, but the work won’t be undertaken for at least another year, maybe two.