Local Opinion

What Does Metra’s Bridge Project Mean for Trucks in the Neighborhood?

By Mike Fourcher | Monday, August 16, 2010
Union Pacific bridge at Montrose Ave.

Union Pacific bridge at Montrose Ave. Photo by vxla.

Metra is about to undertake a project on the Union Pacific North Line to replace 22 bridges that are nearly 100 years old and build a new station at Ravenswood and Lawrence avenues. The station project has attracted most of the attention, including a lot of controversy over its exact location.

But there’s another part of this project that could affect the neighborhood that hasn’t gotten as much notice. As part of the replacement project, the new bridges Metra is installing will have more vertical clearance than the current ones. The existing bridges don’t meet current standards for clearance, and while it is pretty rare, most people who live in the neighborhood have at least once seen a truck get stuck under one of them.

Raising the bridges will reduce the number of times trucks get stuck, but it will also let more and bigger trucks get through than could before. This might even be true on residential streets, where some of the bridges are so low today that few if any trucks can get through. For example, Grace Street currently has 11′ 6” of clearance, but Metra is adding six inches to that. Because trains can’t go over hills as easily as cars, raising the grade at only major streets probably isn’t possible.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a critic of this Metra project for other reasons. It seems likely to go forward, however. While I’m not personally opposed to raising the bridges per se, the potential for increased truck traffic and heavier truck traffic in our neighborhoods is obvious.

Assuming that the bridges are built as proposed, neighborhood groups need to proactively work with the city to make sure that this doesn’t put a lot of new heavy trucks on our streets, and particularly to make sure more trucks don’t start using residential streets as through routes.

Aaron Renn is a nationally known urban affairs commentator who blogs as The Urbanophile.

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  • Eric

    Good point. Don’t forget that Lawrence is being changed to a two-lane configuration next year as part of it’s street-scape. So we’ll have larger trucks on a two-lane roadway. The whole track bed is being raised in order to compensate for the bridge design that the Union Pacific railroad has chosen for the project.

    Here’s the rub: we increase truck traffic and lose any expansion options for future capacity increase. With land so valuable in our fine city, reserving right-of-way should be done whenever possible. It’s quite possible to reserve space for a third track main.

    Basically, we are giving the trucking industry another way to use expensive roadways for little cost.

  • Kevin Wright

    I can understand your point, however I think you are a little optimistic in your estimate of increased truck traffic. I can’t imagine more truck traffic in our neighborhood because there is no place for the trucks to go. The trucks you see on the streets in this area are local delivery trucks only. Trucks are not allowed on LSD and we really are not on the way from any industrial parts of the city to the highways. The only thing that raising the clearance will do is lessen the problems of the truck traffic we have now. I don’t love the idea of more trucks in the area either, but without trucks the businesses in the are would run out of supply quickly. Increased clearance means the ability for suppliers to use larger trucks and make less trips which decreases traffic.

    Your example of Grace street shows an increase to 12 feet, still pretty short for trucks. Most 18 wheel tractor trailers are at least 13 feet tall, and even the larger local delivery or moving trucks are taller than 12 feet meaning they will still not be able to use these underpasses.

    I should state that I have an interest in raising these underpasses as I drive busses for a limousine company, you’ve maybe seen one of my vehicles parked on main arteries for a couple hours when I get the chance to come home for lunch or a much needed nap. The vehicle I usually drive is 12′ 4″ so still no possibility of me using Grace street but on occasion I bring groups (and their money) to Ravenswood Event center or restaurants in the area. Increased clearance would allow busses and trolleys to bring groups to these businesses easier and increase their use.

  • Eric

    One of the core points here is that a transit agency (and railroad) is funding more auto and truck traffic. Your limousine company should be either required to provide payment up front or some cost should be absorbed over time for your use of new infrastructure.

  • Kevin wright

    Maybe I’m not understanding your point. Are you advocating toll roads or bridges in our neighborhood? Metra is doing what it is required by law to do in conjunction with it’s improvement of it’s own infrastructure. Why should trucks and busses be required to pay more money for Metra’s improvements? Really I’m confused. Chicago is not a truck free utopia, in fact one of the reasons Chicago is such a wonderful city is because of the transportation industry, trains, ships, and trucks. Chicago’s ideal location created this industry and that allowed it to stay relevant in the middle of the last century when cities like Detroit and Cleveland crumbled. Trucks are vital to a strong economy, not just nationally but locally as well and any business owner in the neighborhood can tell you that. Nearly 100% of the goods delivered to the grocery store, drug store, restaurants, etc arrive via trucks. By charging tolls to deliver these goods locally you would drive the cost of these goods up locally and hurt these local businesses.

    As for my limousine company, it does pay a fee for the use of the roads in Chicago. For the privelidge of operating in Chicago every one of our two dozen busses has a Chicago sticker at a few hundred bucks a pop. Also any time we pick-up at O’hare it is a $37 charge directly to the city. Also we pay a fee to the MPEA (McPier) for every vehicle on the road in Chicago. All these fees add up to thousands of dollars per year per bus. The company I work for has been in business for four years and despite being very busy has yet to turn a profit, partially because of these fees. Truckers and delivery agencies also have thin margins and can’t afford additional road taxes. I pay my property taxes and want better and less crowded roads but until the oil runs out it isn’t going to happen.

    I really hope I’m wrong about what I think you are saying

  • Rob Gillis

    With the higher bridges we should also see better city bus service. In particular, the 145 route was changed when the newer buses could no longer navigate the Wilson underpass at Ravenswood, thus diminishing access to the Brown Line and the Senior Center at Lawrence and Damen.

  • Eric

    Good point about the buses. Now the whole problem becomes that if we run the 145 along it’s original route, making a transfer to the UP-N becomes an issue if we do not plan for buses to wait for connecting trains. But then again, we can’t have our cake and eat it too, so I’ll concede this issue.

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