Grand Avenue railroad bypass project in Elmwood Park on track
by JASON MEREL
Many residents favor one of six proposals for the “Grand Gateway Project” that would create a grade separation and a traffic bypass for the dangerous railroad crossing in Elmwood Park along Grand Avenue a few blocks west of Harlem Avenue.
The scope of the project is to construct a grade separation between the street and the railroad tracks resulting in an underpass, an overpass or a combination of raising one and lowering the other. It will require a minimum clearance of 23-feet for the overpass and a clearance of 14-feet-9-inches for an underpass, according to the village. The planning phase of the project began in March of 2020 and two public information meetings have been held since then. For planning purposes, the project was originally estimated at approximately $121 million. Construction would be completed by 2027, the village said.
The six alternatives included Grand Avenue elevated over the railroad for $109 million, Grand Avenue under the railroad for $96 million, a hybrid of railroad over and Grand Avenue under for $124 million, the railroad elevated over Grand Avenue for $138 million, the railroad under Grand Avenue for $583 million and a hybrid of Grand Avenue over and railroad under for $104 million.
Project manager Elli Cosky said more than 85 people attended a public information meeting on May 24 and that feedback was mostly positive. Initial feedback showed a strong preference for the $96 million proposal, where Grand would go under the railroad crossing, according to Cosky. Resident feedback centered around potential right-of-way acquisition and construction duration, Cosky said.
According to presentation materials on the project Web site, the favored plan anticipates one residential and six commercial displacements, a right-of-way acquisition of approximately 8,300 square feet, two side road impacts and four property access impacts.
There was also strong negative feedback regarding the railroad under Grand Avenue proposal, with residents citing the extraordinary cost of $583 million and right-of-way acquisition of approximately 649,300 square feet. That proposal anticipated more than 21 residential displacements and more than 5 commercial displacements.
Cosky said feedback showed residents were focused on the safety of automobiles but also student and community crossings.
“While the crossing is located in Elmwood Park, this is a regional project that involves the State, County and Federal government,” Cosky said.
The project was mandated in 2008 by the National Transportation Safety Board after a train crashed into several cars stuck on the tracks in November 2005 and injured more than a dozen people. The Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois Commerce Commission are partnered with the village of Elmwood Park on the project.
The planning phase has already been funded and the anticipated construction is approximately 20 percent funded, according to the project Web site. Elmwood Park village president Angelo “Skip” Saviano said in a statement that the preliminary funding was important “to ensure the project’s construction will move forward as quickly as possible after the preferred alternative has been selected.”
“We owe it to Elmwood Park residents and the region to make this multi-modal transportation hub flourish safely and effectively,” Saviano said. “We are excited for the opportunity to develop viable alternatives that make this process come to life.”
The first phase of the project, which includes both environmental and engineering studies, is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023. The second phase of the project is contract plan preparation and the final phase is construction. Public feedback on the project will be gathered through the summer of 2023. Plan preparation is anticipated to continue until the first quarter of 2025 and construction is expected to be substantially completed by the end of 2027, according to the project Web site.
Saviano said the grade separation project is a critical piece of infrastructure, both locally and regionally, since thousands of people and goods move through the crossing each week. Cosky said about 21,000 vehicles travel through the crossing every day, according to the most recent traffic study of the project area.
For more information, visit the project Web site at www.grandgatewayep.com.