Several constituents have contacted Alderman Waguespack and State Representative Williams over the past few weeks with concerns related to the planned bridge reconstruction project along the Union Pacific North Line. Alderman Waguespack and Representative Williams are committed to working together to represent the interest of their constituents with respect to this project.

Alderman Waguespack requested a meeting with representatives of METRA to get an update on the plans to reconstruct twenty-two bridges in the City of Chicago. At this July 2011 meeting, METRA staff explained their plans and the potential ramifications for residents of the 32nd Ward. The project is divided into two phases. The first phase, which they are currently working on, includes the bridges between Balmoral and Grace. Phase I also includes the reconstruction of the Ravenswood Station. Phase II includes the bridges between Addison and Webster, many of which are located in the 32nd Ward. The second phase is tentatively scheduled to begin in December 2015.

METRA Project Summary

Single Track Plan

METRA’s initial plans for the reconstruction of the bridges involved utilizing a single track instead of the current two-track configuration within the boundaries of the project during construction. METRA attempted to implement the single-track plan last summer. However, due to significant disruption to their service and a 10 percent decline in ridership, METRA made the decision to abandon the single-track plan and revisit their approach to the project.

Articles on Single Track Operations

 Track Realignment Plan

Subsequently, METRA developed an alternate plan that calls for the relocation of one of the two existing tracks twenty-two feet to the west of the existing alignment. The new track would be built on existing railroad right-of-way and will not necessitate the acquisition of any privately-owned property.

The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment on the proposed track realignment identified residential properties that would be adversely affected by the relocation without mitigation measures with respect to noise and/or vibrations from the new track alignment. METRA has been working on a federally required mitigation plan for those affected properties. Initial plans to build a solid wall to screen properties from the tracks and mitigate noise met with opposition from some 47th Ward residents who were concerned about implications of such a wall on light and air. Recently, METRA has agreed to a plan that calls for a transparent structure that will allow light to pass through. However, concerns among residents on the west side of the railroad right-of-way remain.

METRA UP North Environmental Assessment

Some nearby residents have asked why the third track could not be constructed and then the service switched back after completion of the project. However, according to METRA the federal government would not approve of funds for the significant cost of the construction of the new track unless it would be utilized on an ongoing basis. Presumably, the easternmost portion of the right-of-way will be available in case there is a future need for a third track. Up until the 1970’s there were three active tracks in the Union Pacific North Line right-of-way. 

Implications for 32nd Ward Residents

When asked if the realignment of the tracks to the west for Phase I meant that the same realignment was inevitable in Phase II, METRA staff responded by saying that no analysis had been done on Phase II at this point. METRA staff went on to explain that the geometry and the limitations of the single track option were the same for the Phase II area as they are for the Phase I area. As such, it is reasonable to assume, although not a certainty, that METRA’s preferred plan for Phase II will mimic their realignment plan for Phase I. To date, METRA has not preformed any detailed engineering analysis on the Phase II portion of the project to identify whether any properties are likely to require mitigation or resultant noise and/or vibration issues related to a potential realignment. An initial review of the Phase II corridor reveals certain areas where residential development is located in close proximity to the western portion of the railroad right-of-way.

In order for METRA to move forward with a western realignment of the tracks in the Phase II portion of the project, they are required to conduct a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and mitigate any adverse sound and/or vibration effects on adjacent residents. This means that measures designed to bring resultant noise and vibration levels within federally mandated acceptable levels must be designed, substantiated, and funded prior to the realignment of the tracks.

Future Steps to Protect the Interests of 32nd Ward Residents

Prior to this point, METRA had not included Alderman Waguespack or Representative Williams in their list of public stakeholders and had not provided them any details on the planning process for the Phase I portion of the project. Alderman Waguespack and Representative Williams have indicated to MERTA that they need to be included in any future discussions relating to decisions that will affect the ultimate alignment of the tracks. However, METRA and the Union Pacific are legally entitled to use their railroad right-of-way as they deem appropriate as long as they are able to mitigate any increases in sound and/or vibration so that they meet minimum federal standards. 

It is important to reiterate that METRA has indicated that they have no plans to pursue the acquisition of any private property to accomplish track realignment. There are examples in the Phase I area where private developments have been constructed such that they encroach upon railroad owned property. METRA is not proposing to attempt to reclaim any of this property, but the net result has been certain instances where residences have been located closer to the tracks as a result of construction that went beyond private property lines. Property owners adjacent to the west boundary of the railroad right-of-way are advised to check their property surveys to determine where their property lines are in relationship to the tracks and their residences. Alderman Waguespack will be providing updates on the overall project and analysis on the Phase II portion on this website. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.