Meeting held on Grand Ave. rail crossing bypass
by JASON MEREL
A meeting introducing a project to construct a possible underpass or an overpass at the Grand Avenue rail crossing west of Harlem Avenue in the Village of Elmwood Park was held Wednesday, April 21.
The scope of the “Grand Gateway Project” is to eventually construct a grade separation between the street and the railroad tracks, resulting in either an underpass, an overpass or a combination of raising one and lowering the other. It will require a minimum clearance of 23-feet for an overpass and a clearance of 14-feet-9-inches for and underpass, according to the village.
Some of the benefits would be to increase safety, quicker response times from fire and police departments to emergencies, improve mobility to all modes of transportation, reduce congestion and delays, and reduce accidents, officials said.
It’s too early in the project to determine the final cost of the work, according to project documents.
The immediate safety concerns are due to the angle and long distance of the road that the tracks cross. The genesis of the project began after a train struck seven car in 2005, resulting in fatalities and that more than a dozen were involved. The village has said that since 1956 there have been 45 accidents at that rail crossing, with the one in 2005 “looking like a war zone” and being the worst.
Following that accident, the Illinois Department of Transportation conducted a feasibility study in 2007 and the National Transportation Safety Board issued safety recommendations and mandated the Illinois Commerce Commission and IDOT to provide the necessary resources for the grade separation in 2008.
Safety improvements were implemented at the crossing from 2011 to 2015 and the notice to proceed with Phase One of the engineering study for the grade separation was issued in 2020. This first information meeting was a way to introduce the project and solicit feedback from the public. It is estimated that designs for the project would be approved in the fall of 2022, according to a preliminary timeline.
“This is a regional problem,” Elmwood Park mayor Angelo “Skip” Saviano said. “We understand the magnitude of the cost of this project but this is not just about Elmwood Park.” Saviano added that the redevelopment would improve environmental quality and safety for anyone that travels through Elmwood Park.
“It’s a doable project,” Saviano said. “And it could be completed within a 2-year period.”
Aside from immediate safety concerns, the crossing also creates logistical issues for Elmwood Park’s first responders.
“We always have to maintain officers on both sides of the track,” Elmwood Park Police chief Frank Fagiano said. “In the event there’s a 911 call, an emergency, it is critical that our policemen respond and if that grade crossing is blocked or it’s down, obviously they can’t get through.”
Currently, a planning and environmental study is being conducted and the findings will be used for the Phase One preliminary engineering study. According to the project Web site, studies will review potential impacts to the environment, traffic patterns, drainage configuration, and railroad alignments within a defined “study area,” including Conti Parkway circle, Westwood Drive and the areas surrounding the rail line along Grand Avenue, west of 73rd Avenue and east of Haymond Street.
Phase Two of the project will be contract plan preparation and land acquisition. Phase Three is construction and this phase is already partially funded. For more information, visit grandgatewayep.com.