Metra Open House Draws a Crowd

By Laura Pearson | Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thomas Zapler of Union Pacific talks to neighbors. Photo by Laura Pearson.

The auditorium at Bethany Retirement Center (4950 N. Ashland) was packed this past Tuesday for a Metra Infrastructure Project open house. Residents viewed plans for bridge and retaining wall construction on the Union Pacific North line, a $185 million project that starts this month and is expected to wrap up at the end of 2018. Ald. Eugene Shulter (47th), reps from Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad, and project contractors were present.

Metra says these forums are intended to provide Union Pacific line riders with information about the bridge reconstruction project, but similar to last month’s open house regarding Ravenswood Station, the atmosphere was mildly chaotic.

Residents clustered around plans showing 47th Ward Metra improvements, asked questions of one another and Metra spokespeople, and filled out comment sheets, but many wondered aloud whether there was going to be a presentation or a Q&A with representatives (who weren’t wearing anything to identify themselves as reps).

At one point, Thomas Zapler, Director of Public Affairs for Union Pacific, announced to the room that some neighbors wanted to know how community gardens near the Metra tracks would be affected by construction. A small group quickly gathered, and he explained that preserving green spaces was a prime concern. For that, he said, “You can thank Alderman Schulter, who worked hard with Metra to minimize the disturbance to vegetation.”

Schulter mentioned beautification efforts begun 15 years ago by Greening of Ravenswood, including the planting of flowers, bushes, shrubs, and 4,000 daylilies. “Our whole idea is to preserve that,” he said.

47th Ward improvements to the Metra UP-N line. Photo by Laura Pearson.

The alderman told Center Square Journal that during construction he’ll host a task force meeting every Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss community concerns. “This way people feel that they’re informed and empowered,” he said. When asked how long the task force will continue meeting, Schulter said, “Until we feel that everything is going OK.”

As previously reported, local residents recently organized to protest Metra’s plan to relocate the Ravenswood Station. Their concerns were heard, and when a new station is constructed, it will remain in its current location on Ravenswood south of Lawrence (rather than moving north).

“I’m so excited about [that decision],” said Dawn Lullo who lives on the 4800 block of Ravenswood. She said that had the station been relocated across the street from her condo building, it would have lowered property value, blocked sunlight, and created lots of noise and dust.

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