A pair of proposed freight train holding tracks nearly two miles long running through parts of Lake Forest, Glenview and Northbrook has unified municipal officials in those towns and Deerfield into forming a common front.
Officials from Glenview, Northbrook and Lake Forest, along with hundreds of their residents, both lobbied and made written comments to federal and state representatives at an open house November 2 in Glenview.
The purpose of the open house was to give people more detail on the proposed $150 million project and get their input before it is finalized, according to Arun Rao, the passenger rail manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Officials in the four towns met November 3 in Deerfield to consider their options.
The process began when Amtrak announced plans two years ago to add three trains daily in each direction between Chicago and Milwaukee. The proposed change prompted a closer look at the impact on all rail traffic in the area by the Federal Railroad Authority, the Illinois Department of Transportation and WisDOT, according to Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen.
One of the results of the study was an environmental assessment released October 12 that proposed the two holding tracks to allow trains on their way to the Bensenville freight yards to pull over and stop while faster Metra and Amtrak trains pass, according to Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr.
One of those holding tracks will be near Shermer Road between West Lake Avenue in Glenview and Techny Road in Northbrook on either the east or west side of the existing Union Pacific freight line, according to the assessment. One would be 10,000 feet of track on the east side and the other would be 11,000 feet long on the west.
The second holding track is planned for rails owned by Metra used by Canadian Pacific freight trains. It will be 10,000 feet long going north from Highway 60 in Lake Forest, according to the assessment.
“It’s essentially a parking lot for trains,” said Owen in a September 30 DailyNorthShore.com story. “The question is will the smells and sounds of the trains idling and blocked views hurt property values. We believe it would.”
While Rao said the assessment deals satisfactorily with the environmental issues, officials from Glenview and Northbrook said at the open house they do not think the assessment provides enough information. They want an environmental impact report.
“This doesn’t even begin to address the environmental issues,” said Northbrook Village Manager Richard Nahrstadt. “What’s it going to do to the air quality, to the land? It raises more questions than it answers.”
Rao said the report deals with a host of environmental issues and is sufficient for decision making. He said people with concerns should take advantage of the public comment opportunities. The deadline for public comment is November 15.
“It looks at a whole lot of resources like noise impact, wetlands and air quality,” said Rao. “We welcome public comment and will take it into consideration.”
Scores of people sat at tables at the open house writing their comments.
The impact of the holding tracks on traffic congestion is another issue. Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum said she wants to see a traffic study to determine how long backups will be on the area’s roads.
“How long is it going to take the trains to slow down and how long will it take them to start up,” said Frum at the open house. “The trains go 50 miles per hour now and we can have 10 to 15 minute backups.”
The Glenview Village Board of Trustees has already passed a resolution opposing the holding track at its October 18 meeting and is working on a detailed response to the assessment’s proposal.
Lake Forest did not learn about the holding track until the assessment came out October 12 but quickly hired an engineering firm to analyze the impact, according to Kiely. Mayor Donald Schoenheider said the issue is on the agenda for the Lake Forest City Council at 6:30 p.m. November 7.
“We are going to study it very closely,” Schoenheider said. “The (freight) traffic already adds noise and impacts the area. This will only exacerbate the problem.”
While Northbrook’s Village Board of Trustees does not meet before the November 15 deadline for public comment, Frum said the village will have a response on time. She also said the town may ask for more time.
In Deerfield, Village Manager Kent Street will be making recommendations to that community’s Village Board of Trustees when they meet at 7:30 p.m. November 7 at Village Hall.
Click here to read the full environmental assessment on the WisDOT website. The website gives directions for making public comment before the November 15 deadline.