Monday, September 14, 2009

Park Forest, Ill., CN appear ready to finalize agreement

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By now, those of us who usually drive between Sauk Trail and Indianwood Boulevard on Orchard Drive in Park Forest have found new ways to get from here to there, according to a column by Jerry Schnay in the Southtown Star. The village is replacing sewer pipes in the area, the start of a three-year project that will eventually result in the complete renovation of Orchard Drive, including a center turn lane north of Lakewood Boulevard and two left-turn lanes at the intersection of U.S. 30 at the north end of town.

That means you won't feel the need to cut in front of me when we are both racing to get to the single right-turn lane.

Another aspect of the Orchard Drive project is the installation of four-way traffic lights at Orchard and Westwood drives. These are expensive and obviously needed when our new neighbor, Canadian National Railway, finally gets around to running some 24 freight trains a day on the tracks it bought from the EJ&E Railroad. But fear not, fellow citizens. If the village board approves it Sept. 14, Park Forest will receive more than $7 million in money and services from Canadian National in a deal crafted by both sides.

Nearly $2.4 million of that amount will underwrite the Orchard Drive renovation, with the rest of the money used for everything from sound barriers for homes near the tracks, to a commuter tunnel at the 211th Street Metra station to creating a small park near the Metra station in Matteson. The railroad will also take control and maintain the overpass on Orchard Drive.

So what will CN get in return?

The railroad hungers for part of the village parking lot in back of the Matteson Metra station and will pay $475,000 for the south 20 percent of that lot along with six acres of wooded land nearby. CN plans to build a switching track, enabling freight trains to go north onto the Metra tracks.

Reconstruction of the parking lot will include everything from a new drop-off area to electric signs and is expected to cost the railroad more than $1.2 million.

Canadian National says it will give back about two acres of that wooded land to the village for a small park that will include a raised viewing stand so rail fans can watch the trains roll by. The park will also feature a caboose mounted on a concrete pad. Your guess is as good as mine.

There's a lot more on the table for village trustees to consider in the 56-page document that's filled with legal details and descriptions. Other communities along the former EJ&E line have reached similar deals with CN. A few are digging in for a fight.

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