Oak Forest looks forward to new Metra station
By STEVE METSCH email@example.com October 25, 2012 8:22PM
Adam Dotson, left, Community Developement Director for the City of Oak Forest, talks about the new Metra Station that will be built along 159th Street West of Cicero prior to a ground breaking ceremony at the site in Oak Forest, IL on Thursday October 25, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:56AM
With the turning of four shovelfuls of dirt Thursday, a new commuting era was started in Oak Forest.
Officials broke ground on a $3.3 million Metra station that will replace the tiny, dated station near 159th Street and Cicero Avenue.
Mayor Hank Kuspa and city officials are hoping the new station will spur economic development on the northwest corner of the intersection. Right now, a CVS Pharmacy is the lone retail outlet at the Oak Forest Gateway site.
“This will stimulate interest,” Kuspa said. “This will be the cornerstone to promote our transit-oriented district, to promote businesses and activities that serve the commuters. This is just the beginning.”
He envisions a bakery, dry cleaner, coffee shop and small restaurant on the first floor of two five-story buildings that would flank the train station. There would be residential units on the third through fifth floors, with parking on the second.
Developers are interested, he said.
“It’s positive,” Kuspa said. “We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries.”
But before that happens, the Osman Construction Co. must build the station which is scheduled for completion in April, said Adam Dotson, the city’s community development director.
The 1,700-square-foot station will have bathrooms, bike racks, and more space inside for commuters, Dotson said. A warming shelter also is planned, Dotson said.
State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest), who has lived in the city for 42 years, looks forward to a more pleasant commuting experience. A few years ago, Crotty was in the station waiting for a train on a rainy day.
“I was getting wet. Here’s water falling from the leaky roof and splashing next to me. There was no way I thought we should invest one more dime in the station. The bathrooms are obsolete. It’s time,” she said, noting that Midlothian and Tinley Park have newer train stations.
Oak Forest is more of a regional station with commuters driving from as far away as Peotone to catch the train there, city clerk Scott Burkhardt said.
It is the second busiest station on the Rock Island Line, Metra CEO Alex Clifford said.
“It’s a very significant boarding station in our system,” he said.
The station is being paid for with federal grants of $1.3 million and $1 million each from the city of Oak Forest and the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, Dotson said.
When communities get new train stations, they “become a destination,” Clifford said.
“There’s great optimism about what can occur down the road,” he said.
Commuters on Thursday were pleased to learn a new station is planned.
Paige Johnson, of Midlothian, said a new station will be a big improvement.
The old station “is very dumpy,” said Dan Urbanek, of Crestwood. “It’s functional, but it’s very small inside and the lighting is not good.”
The current station will be used until the new station is completed, officials said.