LAKE FOREST — Residents concerned about the proposed expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee and its impact on the community learned both more about it and what local officials plan to do.
Mayor Donald Schoenheider and City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. discussed Lake Forest’s plans to minimize the impact of the expansion and heard the concerns of dozens of residents at a public forum December 19 at the Gorton Community Center.
Residents have pushed Schoenheider and the Lake Forest City Council for answers for the last two months. Local officials have been talking with leaders of neighboring communities and working with state and federal representatives.
“We want to make sure you know everything we know,” said Schoenheider. “We want to hear from you and answer your questions. We want to understand your concerns so we can help impose a solution as it (minimizes the) impact on Lake Forest.”
At the core of the discussion is a proposal for a more than two-mile long holding track between Highway 60 and Rondout near Highway 176 close to Lake Bluff along the Metra tracks, which run through west Lake Forest. It will allow slower freights to park while idling as faster Metra and Amtrak trains pass, DailyNorthShore.com reported on December 4.
Kiely said the expansion idea originated with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which sought an environmental assessment from the Federal Railroad Administration determining the impact of the proposal between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Schoenheider: Environmental Assessment Insufficient
The assessment is insufficient to communicate the impact of the project on the community, according to Schoenheider. He said the city is requesting a more detailed environmental impact study to get the answers local leaders seek. Notes of all resident comments and questions were written down and posted on a wall in the front of the room.
“This is not just about you who live nearby the tracks but the entire community,” said Schoenheider. “The environmental assessment is limited and does not describe overall what will happen. The full-blown environmental impact study will do that.”
One of the people listening was Rep. Elect Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield). He told the crowd of more than 100 people he was there to listen. He said he has spoken to Schoenheider as well as mayors or village presidents in Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn, and that one of the first things he is going to do after his term starts January 3 is push the FRA to authorize the environmental impact study.
Kiely said on several occasions during his formal presentation, “don’t shoot the messenger.” He explained the active proposal for the holding track is 13,000 feet long with 4,000 feet near Rondout renovated and a new 10,000 feet built. He also said the assessment calls for a universal crossover 1,200 feet north of Conway Road allowing trains to switch tracks in both directions.
There are currently 61 Metra trains, 17 Canadian Pacific Freights and 14 Amtrak trains using the tracks daily, according to Kiely. Joanne Desmond, the president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association, said she has counted more and they are getting longer and pulling more cars over the years.
Desmond also said the vibrations the assessment reports will not be felt by any of the Academy Woods residents are very real to the people in the development.
“We’ve spent $300,000 maintaining a 100-year-old wall from the old Armour estate that keeps crumbling. Don’t tell me there aren’t vibrations,” said Desmond. “We deserve an environmental impact study. We need you to step up for our community to make sure that will be able to happen.”
Residents fear the impact the holding track will have on the enjoyment of their homes and property value. As Kiely gave additional details, Amy Keaton, another Lake Forest resident, grew more concerned.
“There goes more of our housing value,” said Keaton. “Oh, well.”
Glenview Resident Talks of Concerns in his town
Not everyone who spoke was from Lake Forest. Gary Dubofsky of Glenview was there too. He said the Village of Glenview has been aware of the possibility of a 10,000-foot-long holding track spanning Glenview and Northbrook for more than two years. He affirmed what Desmond and dozens of others were saying.
“What you are seeing is not a hallucination,” said Dubofsky. “One train was idling by my house for 15 minutes and another for more than three hours. They’re right in my back yard.”
Dubofsky said people should suggest Amtrak add more cars for their peak runs rather than additional trains. He said the assessment does not make a compelling case for expansion and disproving the need for the three additional round trips negates the holding tracks.
Kiely said the public comment period to question and attempt to persuade the FRA ends January 15. He said he expects a decision on whether the FRA will rule the assessment is sufficient or the impact study is necessary by the end of March.
Click here to read the full assessment on the WisDOT website.