Metra is set to receive a $37.6 million federal infrastructure grant as it works to modernize the 59th Street/University of Chicago station and bring it into American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
The project will rehabilitate the station’s dilapidated 59th Street entrance, reopen its long-shuttered 60th Street entrance and add elevators for improved accessibility, among other improvements. Announced Tuesday, Dec. 20, the grant will help to fund the $53.7 million 59th/60th U. of C. Station Rehabilitation project, which has been in the works for more than a decade.
The award is a small portion of the total $185 million in funds distributed to local agencies as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) All Stations Accessibility Program. The accessibility program was established as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden last year.
Federal funds were also allocated to eight other states for the purpose of improving accessibility to rail facilities built before the ADA was enacted in 1990 and thus exempt from ADA compliance (grandfathered in), the Chicago Tribune reports.
Plans for the project were set in motion in 2021; but renovations have been delayed and costs increased.
Construction is still slated to begin in the spring, but will likely extend months beyond Metra’s original estimated completion date of fall 2023, according to a Metra spokesperson.
In March of 2021, an FTA spokesperson said that both entrances are being upgraded in response to the anticipated use of the station by visitors to the Obama Presidential Center in nearby Jackson Park, the evolving needs of the Woodlawn community and several new facilities planned or completed by the U. of C. south of 60th Street.
With the improvements, both entrance depots will be completely reconstructed; the lobby area will be expanded to accommodate a larger waiting area and there will also be new stairs to the platforms, according to project details.
ADA and circulation-specific improvements include four elevators, one at each end of the station’s two platforms, allowing street-level access. The depots will also include other circulation modifications, such as accessible door widths with button-activated openers.
The new depot areas will also include LED lighting, murals, ticket vending machines and directional information.
The total cost of the project has increased by $20.2 million in the two years, which a Metra spokesperson attributed to inflation and adjustments in the scope of the project following consultations with the U. of C., neighborhood groups and various state and federal transportation agencies.
Before the latest input of federal funding, Metra estimated that $2.5 million for the project would come from the U. of C., $2.4 million from the FTA, $18 million from Rebuild Illinois Bond Funds and the remainder from “future federal and state funding,” according to the project website.
A Metra spokesperson said that the recent injection of $37.6 million in federal funding could reduce the funds needed from the Rebuild Illinois Bond Funds and other sources, but the amount of the reductions, if any, are not yet resolved.
Elsewhere on the South Side, the 95th Street/Chicago State University station will also receive $29 million to make the station fully ADA-accessible with new elevators, a pedestrian tunnel, pathways and platform.