While the village of Brookfield waits on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad to move ahead with overhauling the south retaining wall of the Congress Park Metra station platform and entrance to the pedestrian tunnel, village officials intend to seek grant funding to make improvements north of the rail line.

On March 13, village trustees are expected to approve a resolution to submit an application to Cook County for a $188,000 grant to make hardscape and landscape improvements in the area between the north end of the tunnel and Southview Avenue, where commuters from north of the tracks walk to access the station.

Brookfield hopes to tap into the annual Invest in Cook program, which awards funding for projects that further the county’s long-range Connecting Cook County transportation plan.

The grants cover 50% of the cost of a project, with Brookfield’s estimated to come in around $376,000. The area north of the Congress Park Metra station, used by pedestrians and bicyclists to access the train station daily also accommodates train and vehicle traffic and is called out in Brookfield’s Active Transportation Plan as a priority.

“[The area sees] a lot of different modes of transportation and potential for conflicts,” Emily Egan, the village’s community development director, told elected officials during a discussion of the grant at the village board’s Feb. 27 committee of the whole meeting.

If successful, Brookfield would seek to complete the improvements in 2024.

The Active Transportation Plan, adopted by the village board in 2017, recommends prioritizing pedestrian and bike access in the area north of the train station and to beautify the area, which includes a gravel drive heading south from Southview Avenue to a rail spur leading into the loading dock at Sweetener Supply at 9501 Southview Ave.

South of the rail spur is a concrete sidewalk that snakes its way to the Congress Park station tunnel past a turf-covered storm water detention area. A preliminary improvement plan unveiled Feb. 27 calls for the gravel path to be paved with concrete and for pedestrian lighting to be installed.

It also calls for signage and pavement markings where the path meets the rail spur and for planters and benches to be placed in the landscaped area bordering the sidewalk and additional pedestrian lighting between the rail spur and the tunnel.

The Active Transportation Plan calls for erecting wayfinding signage to make it clearer to commuters that they can access the Metra station from the north through what could be taken as a private drive into the Sweetener Supply property.

Paving the gravel drive and improving signage at the rail spur could help ensure the safety of commuters crossing the grade-level tracks.

“We also believe that this public investment will spur further private investment in this area, and we maintain that this is a priority redevelopment area for the village,” Egan said.

The access path from Southview Avenue to the Congress Park tunnel appears to be owned by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, but the Landmark has not been able to confirm exactly who owns it.

Cook County property records seem to imply that the access area, including the gravel drive and part of the sidewalk, are on Sweetener Supply property, but the village does have a lease agreement with the railroad, last updated in 1958, for the entire length of the access pathway.

Robert Speck of Sweetener Supply told the Landmark that the company does not own any of the property outside its gates and that the sidewalk and gravel drive are in the BNSF right-of-way.

Brookfield first entered into a lease for the area north of the tracks in 1917, when there were few, if any structures, in that area. In 1958, the Brookfield village board approved the construction of a GW Sugar factory, and the railroad may have amended its lease with the village at that time, narrowing the easement to the narrow path that exists to this day.

Egan said she has received preliminary support for the village’s grant application from Sweetener Supply and other Southview Avenue businesses.

This story has been changed to include a statement from Sweetener Supply’s Robert Speck regarding ownership of the land connecting Southview Avenue with the Congress Park train tunnel.

The village of Brookfield seeks a county grant to make hardscape and landscape improvements to the area north of the Congress Park train station, where pedestrians access it from the north. | Provided