Metra, city officials break ground on $20 million 147th Street station renovation project
Officials touted the rehabilitation as part of a collaborative effort that would improve public transportation access for south suburban commuters and make Harvey more economically competitive.
Heavy rains hit the Chicago area hard in late April, but the City of Harvey is starting May on a more jubilant note. “The sun is shining on Harvey,” Illinois State Senator Napoleon Harris said at a press conference Wednesday, May 4.
Metra officials joined city, state, and federal leadership to break ground on a $20 million overhaul of the city’s 147th Street station — the first in more than 30 years.
Officials touted the rehabilitation as part of a collaborative effort that would improve public transportation access for Harvey and make the city more economically competitive.
“Issues of leadership impact us deeply in communities like Harvey. And I want everybody who's standing before me and everyone who can hear my voice to understand and see what leadership looks like,” Mayor Clark said as he pointed to the row of attendees behind him, including Governor JB Pritzker, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Metra CEO Jim Derwinski, and Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman.
“When all of the boats are rowing in the same direction, you can accomplish things such as 147th Street,” Mayor Clark added.
The Metra Electric station’s improvements, which will result in the station’s closure for 12 to 15 months, are being funded through the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure program passed in 2019, the Federal Transit Administration, and a Cook County Invest in Cook grant.
Mayor Clark also thanked his mayoral staff, the team built as he entered following the exit of former mayor Eric J. Kellogg, who was frequently accused of — although never convicted — rampant political corruption and nepotism, which many argue turned away business interests that would have otherwise come.
“Good leaders surround themselves with good people,” Mayor Clark said. The mayor also contested the idea that Harvey’s political culture is wholly adversarial, as represented in the project’s unanimous approval by City Council.
Alderman Marshun Tolbert (2nd), Alderwoman Telanee Smith (3rd), and Alderman Tyrone Roges (6th), who’s ward the station residents in, were also in attendance.
Next summer, riders will enjoy improved lighting, a new enclosed staircase entrance, improved parking lot, and more durable composite material equipped with a canopy covering most of the platform.
Graffiti currently lines the walls of a viaduct that runs underneath the tracks. Passenger shelters are rusting. Commuters have complained dim lighting is a safety issue. For the first time ever, the station will be equipped with elevators, making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Governor Pritzker noted.
“This gleaming new station is just one of the investments our Capital plan is bringing to Harvey — and with the doubling of state funding for the city’s local infrastructure projects, residents should expect to see more new sidewalks, bike paths, and other local improvements,” Pritzker said.
Elgin-based contractor IHC Construction Companies was awarded a $13 million contract to spearhead the 147th Street station rehabilitation, with a commitment to subtract 25% of the work to people of color and women-owned businesses. The remaining $7 million will cover railroad labor costs, construction management, and contingencies.
The renovation coincides with several local transit-oriented development efforts to connect Harvey residents to jobs, make the city more economically competitive, and improve public health equity.
In 2021, City Council approved a TOD tax increment fund district downtown designed to attract development near the city’s transit assets to build density and consumer traffic.
This January, the Council also approved “Harvey Lofts,” a new $17 million affordable housing development in Downtown Harvey led by MVAH Partners. “Lofts” will be within the TOD TIF and is expected to start construction this summer.
Investments in transit policy can reduce congestion, make the Chicago region more attractive to business leaders, and increase access for families, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.
“Projects like this one ensure that our residents have equitable access to goods and services,” Preckwinkle said.
Through Invest in Cook, an initiative that supports the engineering and construction of freight, bus, bike, and pedestrian projects, Metra received a $300,000 grant in 2017 for engineering and design associated with the station’s improvement, Preckwinkle said. In 2021, Metra received an additional $600,000 to support construction.
Harvey will receive $420,000 to create bike and pedestrian lanes linking UChicago Ingalls Memorial Hospital and the Transportation Center through Invest.
Preckwinkle noted the station is part of the Fair Transit in Cook program, a 3-year pilot launched last year which slashed fares by 50% on the Rock Island and Electric lines extending through Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.
Earlier in the week, the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways (DoTH) released a report documenting the program’s first-year results. While the 28-page report doesn’t show a boost in ridership along the 2 lines, officials still heralded the initiative for removing financial barriers for south suburban riders, Block Club Chicago reported.
Another county report found that there are south Cook residents — including those in Harvey where nearly one-third of the population live at or below the poverty line, according to 2020 census data — who struggle to afford transportation, spending more than 50% of income on transit.
The city has long struggled with political corruption, population decline, and job loss. Just a block west of the station sits a vacant 1.25 acres storefront following last year’s departure of the only remaining Walgreens.
In the past 2 decades, however, Harvey quietly became the transit capital of the south suburbs.
The Pace 352 Halsted route, which runs from Chicago Heights and the 95th Street Red Line station with a connection at the Transportation Center, has the highest ridership of any bus system wide — even now when Pace ridership is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the DoTH report.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 352 was the only route in the entire Pace system that ran 24 hours. Pace tripled service along the 352 route as part of the Fair Transit program.
When going express, the city’s Metra stations located at 147th Street and 154th Street zip commuters to Downtown Chicago in about 40 minutes.
But it’s not just Harvey residents who see the stations as convenient.
“This is a celebration for the Southland and the south suburbs,” Mayor Clark said, because people from nearby cities like Dixmoor, Posen, Dolton, Riverdale, Homewood, and Hazel Crest also use these stations.
“Where mass transit goes, the community grows — and so does the economy,” Regional Transit Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard said. This project could be a catalyst for greater returns on private investment, Dillard said.
The city’s 154th Street station, built in 2004, will also receive an overhaul, according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. That project is currently in the design phase and expected to be completed in 2024.
The RTA, which financially oversees Metra, Pace, and the Chicago Transit Authority, has held 2 public comment sessions with Harvey residents on its efforts to build public space and improve transit around the 154th and 155th Street corridors.
Metra is making additional upgrades to 13 other stations on the Metra Electric over the next 6 years.
With the passage of the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill, governments nationwide are expected to roll out ambitious — and long overdue — plans to overhaul their infrastructure systems.
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