Park Forest Approves $7.35 Million Agreement with Canadian National Railway

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Director of Community Development Larrie Kerestes describes proposed changes to the Park Forest commuter parking lot at Homan Ave. and Hickory St. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

Five Agreements Passed Unanimously by Village Board

Story updated September 14, 2009 at 10:53 p.m. to reflect approval of the agreement by the Park Forest Village Board

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– The Village Board on Monday approved an agreement worth more than $7.35 million it has reached with Canadian National Railway. The agreement caps off many, many negotiations on the part of Village Manager Tom Mick and staff members, as well as consultations in Executive Session with the Village Board when permitted by statute. The board discussed the agreement in detail publicly at last Monday’s regular meeting.

Among other things, agreement calls for over $2.4 million from CN for traffic congestion mitigation; $1.5 million toward residential noise mitigation issues; $100,000 to fund the purchase of vehicles/equipment “at the sole discretion of the Village,” according to the agreement, which will be used to enhance emergency response operations along the rail track; and $100,000 to the Village to fund economic development projects.

Canadian National is also throwing in a caboose that will become part of a new public park in Park Forest related to the heritage of the rail industry and likely to be of particular interest to train enthusiasts.

On January 31, 2009, Canadian National rail company (CN) was granted authority by the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to move forward with its acquisition of the former EJ&E rail company and its rail track system. With the STB’s determination in January of this year, communities along the rail arc began to approve Voluntary Mitigation Agreements (VMA) with CN in accordance with guidelines set forth by the federal board.

In January of this year, the Village convened initial negotiations with CN on a VMA and the potential sale of a tract of land coveted by the rail company as part of its master plan for the EJ&E acquisition. As a result of a package deal negotiated and proposed to be agreed upon by the Village and CN, the rail company is willing to provide the Village the following as part of a VMA:

  • CN will contribute $2,450,000 for traffic congestion mitigation. Funds will be used to help offset a funding gap which exists for the project which will redesign, reconfigure and reconstruct Orchard Drive from Route 30/Lincoln Highway north to Lakewood Boulevard. The Board is already aware of the plans for the reconstruction and improvement of Orchard Drive due to natural deterioration of this thoroughfare. Funds will also be used to construct and install 4-way streetlight/traffic control devices at the intersection of Orchard Drive and Westwood Drive. Village Staff is of the opinion that traffic patterns will naturally flow down Westwood Drive and/or North Street when trains are crossing Western Avenue. Implementation of a traffic light-controlled intersection at Orchard & Westwood should assist in better control of traffic seeking alternate routes when trains are crossing Western Avenue.
  • CN will contribute $1,500,000 toward residential noise mitigation issues. Village Staff envisions these funds being distributed in two fashions. The first is to fund a sound barrier along the rail track for a long stretch, if not full length, of properties east of Western Avenue to the Forest Preserve District property. Funding toward this sound barrier would be $1,000,000 and likely will need to be leveraged with grant funds in the case that these funds are not sufficient to install a full length sound barrier from Western to the Forest Preserve. A sound barrier is a key component of the Strategic Plan for Land Use and Economic Development and the study’s vision for the redevelopment of the Eastgate neighborhood.
  • The second use for the pool of $1,500,000 for noise mitigation is to establish a reimbursement fund which would allow impacted property owners west of Western Avenue a set amount of dollars per property for the purpose of making home improvements to offset diminished property values with the increase of rail traffic. Funding for this program would amount to approximately $500,000 and would be allocated for properties along Water Street, Waldmann Street, Well Street and Well Court which are immediately adjacent to the rail tracks.
  • CN will contribute to the Village $100,000 to fund the purchase of vehicles/equipment at the sole discretion of the Village which will be used to enhance emergency response operations along the rail track.
  • CN will contribute $100,000 to the Village to fund economic development projects. Village staff envisions several ideas for these dollars, such as: providing capacity building training to existing Park Forest small businesses on such things as marketing, business operations, pricing and cash flow projections; marketing the Village-owned properties in the Park Forest Business Park; providing a match for grant funds to continue planning studies for the 211th Street Metra Station TOD; and installing information kiosks at both Park Forest commuter lots to promote Village of Park Forest events. The Village could also propose to spend the bulk of the funds to pay for a restaurant build-out or to create a micro-loan pool for new or existing Park Forest businesses undertaking capital improvements. The ultimate use of these funds will be determined after more discussion with the Village’s economic development team, the Economic Development Advisory Group and the Board of Trustees.
  • CN will grant an easement right at the 211th Street commuter lot at an estimated value of $60,000. The 211th Street Metra Station Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Study recommends the construction of a pedestrian tunnel from the Park Forest commuter parking lot to the Matteson station entrance. This will enhance the attractiveness of this parking lot to commuters because it will create more direct access to the station entrance than what currently exists. The construction of this pedestrian tunnel requires approval from both Metra and CN as it will cross their rights-of-way. CN’s willingness to grant this license will enable the construction of the pedestrian tunnel at such time as funding becomes available.
  • CN agrees to finance consulting support of the Village’s pursuit of a quiet zone for the Western Avenue crossing. Estimated value of this support is $25,000. This benefit would be contingent upon the Village Board’s determination that it would prefer a quiet zone designation.
  • CN agrees to facilitate and engage in ongoing training of public safety/emergency response personnel. Estimated value of this commitment is $25,000.
  • CN will provide enhanced rail track and crossing observation capabilities for SouthCom dispatching services. Estimated value of this technology is at least $25,000. This benefit will allow for a constant warning system to alert the SouthCom Tele-communicators to train locations along the rail track as public safety vehicles are dispatched in Park Forest. CN will not only implement the system but commit to ongoing upgrades for system hardware and software which might be necessary in the future.

As a result of a package deal negotiated and proposed to be agreed upon by the Village and CN, the rail company is willing to make substantial improvements to the Village-owned commuter parking lot located at Homan Avenue and Hickory Street. Highlights of the Parking Lot Reconstruction Agreement include:

  • CN will construct a new ‘kiss & ride’ lane, which would be constructed along the north side of the commuter lot. This lane would be appropriately reinforced and constructed so as to accommodate future bus traffic needs. CN will also re-pave and re-light the entire remaining parking lot and carry out fence repair and/or replacement work as needed around the perimeter of the lot. This work will enhance the overall attractiveness of the remaining commuter lot. It is anticipated that 80% (approximately 570 spaces) of the existing parking capacity will remain intact subsequent to the construction project. The anticipated construction work at the commuter lot is $1,110,000.
  • CN will contribute $40,000 to Park Forest for an electronic parking lot capacity sign. This sign will alert commuters to availability of the Homan/Hickory commuter lot and how many spaces are open at any given time. While the exact location of the lot capacity/availability sign has yet to be determined by Village Staff, it will likely to be along Western Avenue or on Lincoln Highway/Route 30. As part of this initiative, CN will add electronic loops in parking lot entry lanes to communicate with the lot capacity signage. The estimated cost for this improvement is $10,000.
  • CN will contribute $60,000 to the Village for additional site enhancements such as a new fare box collection system. Funds may also be used for a multi-use asphalt path connecting the Old Plank Road Trail to a public park/point of interest to be constructed immediately south of the Homan/Hickory commuter lot.

The rail company will also purchase 5.778 acres of Village-owned property that are legally situated within the corporate limits of the Village of Matteson. Highlights of the Real Estate and Easement Agreement and the Option Agreement as include:

  • CN will purchase 3 parcels of land (totaling 5.778 acres) for a sales price of $475,000. The purchase includes land plus air rights/easements which will allow CN to convene its planned construction of a switch rail from the east/west bound rail line to the north/south bound line.
  • Post construction through the Option Agreement, CN will deed back to Park Forest, at no cost, a surplus wooded lot of approximately 2 acres. The estimated value of this clause is $80,000.CN agrees to grub and remove vegetation on the deeded back 2 acre parcel per Park Forest input so as to begin prepping the parcel as a point of interest for train enthusiasts. The estimated value of this clearing work is $60,000.
  • CN agrees to donate a surplus rail caboose for placement on the above-noted wooded acreage property. Estimated value is $30,000.

Subsequent to the land sale and deeding back of the wood acreage, the Village envisions a public park being established related to the heritage of the rail industry and of particular interest to train enthusiasts. The 2 acres would be cleared of vegetation except for desirable salvaged trees (hardwoods such as oaks, hickories, etc.), any necessary noise buffering at the edges of the property and any wetlands-designated foliage which may be needed. On the cleared site, a train viewing platform would be installed for train enthusiasts to climb and view trains making the transition from east/west bound rail lines to north/south bound lines. In close proximity a rail caboose would be mounted on a concrete pad with interpretive signage perhaps to be placed noting historical points of interest pertaining to rail traffic in the region. The point of interest would also include a rail-related mural to be constructed on a large retaining wall of the switch rail bridge.

The rail company will also to accept transfer of ownership of the rail track bridge/overpass of Orchard Drive. Highlights of the agreement include:

  • CN agrees to assume responsibility of maintenance, liability and replacement of this structure. The estimated value of this transaction is $900,000. Village Staff believes this is a conservative estimate, at best. Getting out from under this liability is a major accomplishment of the package deal with CN.
  • CN agrees to paint the Orchard Drive overpass/bridge within the next three years with an estimated cost for this work being $225,000. This upgrade will coincide with the Village’s planned improvements all along the Orchard Drive corridor. Paint work will include sandblasting and full lead abatement.
  • CN agrees to contribute $40,000 to Park Forest for the purchase of an electronic message board(s) that will be permitted to be installed and operated (in perpetuity) on the overpass. Invariably, the Village and/or service clubs have resorted to hanging banners on the overpass alerting the public to events taking place in the community. Installation of a remote-accessed electronic reader board(s) will enhance the look of the Village’s message to commuters traveling along Orchard Drive with ongoing updates to be posted from the desk top of Village’s public relations office.

The total package, worth $7,355,000, is contained in five separate agenda items on schedule for action Monday night.

The writer is a Park Forest Village Trustee. Source material for this article comes from the agenda for the September 14, 2009 Regular Meeting.