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.