Friday, September 11, 2009

Metra's 80th Avenue station in Tinley Park set for makeover

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Standing trackside outside Metra's 80th Avenue Station in Tinley Park, Ill., recently, Tom Britt wasn't happy, the Chicago Tribune reports. "This station needs to be improved," said the Frankfort, Ill., resident, "desperately."

Britt, a Tinley Park-based lawyer who uses the station several times a week to go downtown for court, is particularly critical of the vertical distance between the shoulder-width platform and the trains. "When you're trying to get on the train, it's a serious step up," he said.

Kim Battaglia, another Frankfort resident heading downtown, agreed with Britt, and added another gripe: "It would be nice if it had bathrooms," she said.

That complaint -- and others made in past years -- could be rectified soon as part of a station renovation scheduled to begin next spring. Part of the project is eliminating the gap, which Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki estimates is a foot to 14 inches and a violation of Americans With Disabilities Act regulations. Plans call for bringing it into federal compliance by raising more than 800 linear feet on both sides of the platform by about 8 inches.

The total funds available for the project may increase to nearly $8 million if $500,000 recently approved by the U.S. House wins approval from the Senate, which is expected, said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who pushed for the money. Biggert announced the funds while standing a few yards from the station on a recent picture-perfect day with balmy temperatures, but recalled the bone-chilling cold she experienced campaigning in January outside the facility.

"The platform is just this wide," she said, stretching her hands apart shoulder-width. "And it's really cold up against the station. We really have to step it up. It would be nice to be able to get warm" in the winter, she said.

A warming station is in the renovation plans, but the issue goes beyond personal comfort, Biggert said. "We really want people to use public transportation. We really want to reduce our reliance on foreign fuel."

Federal transit funds paid about $670,000 for engineering and design by Chicago-based Legat Architects, which also designed the Metra station in Oak Park. The design accommodates the 3,000 daily riders estimated by Tinley Park officials.

Zabrocki said village officials hope to get construction contracts approved in time for construction next spring. Metra is providing $5.4 million to cover the bulk of the upgrade, with Tinley Park kicking in a little more than $1 million for niceties that include a clock tower, a cafe and vendor space. Plans also include more and better lighting along the platform and in the parking lots. Biggert has secured about $1.2 million in federal funds.

Metra's nationally acclaimed Oak Park Avenue station "is the minimum standard of what we want to do," Zabrocki said. "The only question we have is how much of the bells and whistles we're going to put in," he said, adding that the request for proposals will seek a separate cost estimate for each item.

Village Clerk Pat Rea said restrooms would be part of the updated station, as will four warming/weather shelters on the inbound platform and one shelter on the outbound.

Although Biggert and Zabrocki put ridership at 3,000, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said the most recent weekday ridership count -- done in fall 2006 -- puts the 80th Avenue Station at 2,459 passengers. That figure makes it the system's fourth-busiest station, just behind third-place Lisle, which showed 2,472 passengers.

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