LAKE FOREST — A possible holding track approximately two-miles-long in Lake Forest to let freights park while faster Amtrak and Metra trains pass has prompted the city to take the unusual step of holding a town hall meeting on the topic.
Residents will have the opportunity to get an update on the proposed expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha service adding three daily round trips between Milwaukee and Chicago, share their views and get questions answered at 6:30 p.m. December 19 at the Gorton Community Center.
This kind of give and take between the community and both of its elected and appointed officials is not something done very often, but Mayor Donald Schoenheider said it is appropriate in this case.
“It’s not typical,” said Schoenheider in a DailyNorthShore.com interview. “In my terms as mayor or alderman it’s never been done. Because of the impact on the community we felt it was worthwhile doing something a little different.”
The meeting is among several steps taken by the city to keep the Federal Railroad Administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation from going ahead with the elements of the project, which will put the holding track between Highway 60 and Highway 176.
Schoenheider is not the only person who thinks the meeting is important. Rep. Elect Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield), who has already committed to arguing his constituents’ case to the FRA, said he will be there.
Rep. Elect Schneider Will Attend
“The Amtrak tracking issue is of vital importance to many of the communities in the 10th District and it is crucial for residents to be able to express their concerns,” said Schneider in an email to DNS. “I look forward to joining them on December 19 and hearing their perspective so that I can best represent their case in Washington.”
Schneider, who won the seat in the November 8 general election, takes office January 3. He also represents Glenview, Northbrook and Deerfield where additional holding tracks are planned.
No decision will be made by the FRA before the public comment period ends January 15.
The interest in Lake Forest has been growing since it was first raised at the city’s annual town hall meeting November 1 at the Gorton Community Center. It was discussed at length during a city council meeting November 7.
At that time the council authorized Schoenheider and City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. to request a 60-day extension of the public comment period set to expire November 15 and request a full environmental impact report rather than the more limited Environmental Assessment which was issued October 12. The extension was granted November 17.
Kiely said another purpose of the meeting is to make sure everyone has the same accurate information as well as an opportunity to be fully heard rather than the limitations put on public comment at city council meetings. People are often limited to three minutes at that time.
Residents Speak Their Mind
During the December 5 meeting, several people spoke about the issue and others said they would wait until December 19. Joanne Desmond, the president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, has been actively lobbying the city for action. The development abuts the existing tracks.
“Everybody here should attend the December 19 meeting,” said Desmond. She implored those in attendance to let the FRA, IDOT and WisDOT know their feelings.
David Tanaka, president of the Pine Oaks Condominium Association, encouraged Schoenheider and the aldermen to push for the full environmental impact study. He said what has been published so far is lacking.
“There are a lot of baseless assumptions (in the assessment) about the lack of impact on the environment,” said Tanaka.
Kiely said people at the meeting will be encouraged to ask questions of the FRA through public comment and give their own views. He said it is important to do that before a final decision is made which will be after January 15.
“They have said they will answer all questions,” said Kiely.
Click here to read the full assessment on the WisDOT website.