The train's still in the station
Rebuilding plans on hold at Tinley Park Metra stop - for now
September 20, 2007
By Kristen Schorsch, Staff writer
For 33 years, Cathy Lia has had to lift herself onto the Metra train at 80th Avenue and Timber Drive in Tinley Park. The buckling platform beneath her is marked with divots and low points that force riders to grab and pull.
"It's getting harder and harder to get on that train," Lia, 53, said Wednesday morning, armed with coffee and a bag of goodies, compliments of the village of Tinley Park. "You have to literally pull yourself up."
Lia would like a new train station, but most of all, the Orland Park resident wants a new platform.
So does Donna Herman 42, of Tinley Park, who said she has sprained her ankle twice getting on and off the train.
"When you jump down, you jump into the potholes," Herman said while waiting for her ride to downtown Chicago.
Tinley Park officials want commuters to know they feel their pain. That's why Mayor Ed Zabrocki and more than a dozen village employees arrived at the station before dawn Wednesday.
It was part commuter appreciation day, part campaign effort.
Commuters received free coffee and doughnuts as well as a bag of pamphlets telling them about Tinley's efforts to rebuild the more than 25-year-old station. Other pamphlets reminded riders to take the 1-year-old Veterans Parkway from 183rd Street to shave minutes of their trip to the station. Others encouraged commuters to sign up for a community e-mail that would provide information about the 80th Avenue station, including construction updates and special events.
As riders waited for trains, Zabrocki chatted with them, telling them about the financial questions that are holding up improvements.
The 80th Avenue station serves about 3,000 commuters a day and is the fourth-busiest station on the entire Metra system.
So far, Tinley Park has set aside about $1 million for the project and has secured a $700,000 federal grant, village manager Scott Niehaus said.
Metra has to pay for a new building and platform, which is estimated to cost about $2 million. Tinley will cover the cost of any upgrades.
But Metra, which is part of the Regional Transportation Authority, is in no shape to pay its share. The RTA has threatened to slash services and hike fares to deal with a more than $200 million budget deficit.
In the past three years, Metra has had to divert about $100 million from capital projects like train station improvements to pay for day-to-day operations because of a lack of money from the state, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.
Illinois senators this week offered a plan to create new casinos and expand existing ones to help foot the bill for mass transit in Chicago as well as pay for construction and education. The plan would provide about $200 million for the RTA, which oversees the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace and Metra, but the agency would have to pay the money back.
"Any funding is helpful; however, what is really needed to sustain our system is a long-term capital program," Pardonnet said. "We have said that from the start. ... We're still hopeful that Springfield will come through."
That means projects have to wait.
Tinley Park has been asking for a new station at 80th Avenue for at least two years. It aims to double the size of its nearly 1,500-square-foot terminal, where people snag coffee and wait for rides, and replace the aging platform. In 2005, a lack of state funding delayed the project.
A look at the station during early morning rush hour provides a glimpse of why the village is calling for improvements.
As trains barrel down the tracks, commuters line up shoulder to shoulder against a fence. When they board trains, they first look down at their footing, then grab a rail to pull themselves up.
Inside the one-story station building, five benches that can fit about four people each line white, barren walls. Riders can buy a cup of joe for 60 cents or 75 cents, depending on the size.
Marcia Partipilo, 45, of Homer Glen, has been serving coffee from a small counter since the brick building opened more than 25 years ago. She said the structure recently received new windows, a new roof and a fresh coat of paint inside.
Partipilo understands people might want a few extras at a train station, but she said commuters spend only five minutes or so coming and going.
"Why spend the money?" she said. "Just beautify it a little more."
Tinley Park Trustee Greg Hannon said new amenities at 80th Avenue would be similar to those at the Oak Park Avenue train station, which was renovated in 2003.
The $4.4 million makeover included a building with an observation tower and facade that matches the architecture of the historic Tinley Park downtown district. A full-service kitchen serves hot coffee, breakfast and lunch. Commuters also received new lighting and surveillance cameras.
The 80th Avenue station, though, would be built to match the surrounding residential neighborhood, park and nearby public library, Hannon said. The Tinley Park Public Library is a prairie-style brick building with slanted roofs similar to nearby homes. The station probably won't serve hot meals, but it will have coffee, Hannon said.
"It doesn't need to be a central focal point like Oak Park Avenue," Hannon said.
The village plans to start designing the station so it can begin construction when money becomes available, Niehaus said. The project likely will cost about $4 million.
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