With federal infrastructure money slopping around like never before, here is the single, most obvious project that needs to get done. The railroad underpass at Harlem Avenue between North and South Boulevards is fully obsolete. The clearance is too low for many trucks. The lanes are too narrow for Harlem’s heavy traffic. The center support clogs up any traffic flow. And it is an absolute bottleneck at a critical juncture of three villages — Forest Park, River Forest and Oak Park.
The obstacle, and the opportunity, for the fierce lobbying that must be done to gather in the estimated $30 million it will cost to fully reimagine and rebuild this underpass is that there are three villages determined to get it done.
First proposed in 2008, the rebuild has never gotten past some initial engineering studies. And those studies make clear the complexity and the necessity of the work.
Now Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, River Forest President Cathy Adduci, and Oak Park President Vicki Scaman are unified in the effort and working with both state and federal legislators to secure the funds.
This underpass is now 100 years old. Built originally to carry Chicago and Northwestern tracks over Harlem Avenue, it is now a workhorse carrying Metra and CTA commuter lines as well as the Union Pacific (UP) freight trains. It is Union Pacific that owns the underpass. In a typical cheapskate, offloading maneuver, an early hang-up in the planning discussions is that the UP does not want to own the underpass and does not want responsibility to maintain it once the work is done.
A railroad that has clearly not invested a nickel in this vital piece of infrastructure over the course of a century should not get off scot-free when the real work gets done.
With the president of the state senate, Don Harmon, and the speaker of the Illinois house, Chris Welch, living in or adjacent to our communities, and with Democratic senators representing Illinois, this is the moment to get this project funded and rebuilt.
Forest Park’s urban forest
Smart move by the Forest Park Village Council to seek a grant from the Morton Arboretum to undertake a full inventory of all the trees in the public way in the village. The arboretum would pay half of the roughly $20,000 cost of a professionally done audit. Creating a baseline of the number and location of trees, the variety of species, and the size and condition of those trees is an essential starting point for Forest Park’s continued investment in this great community asset.
It is a progressive move by a Forest Park administration and council that is more ambitious in seeking out support for green initiatives.
We are all in favor.