HYDE PARK — A project to make the 59th Street Metra station accessible and reopen a long-closed entrance received a major funding boost from the federal government this week.
The Federal Transit Administration will give Metra a $37.6 million infrastructure grant to complete accessibility upgrades as part of the agency’s effort to renovate the station with reconstructed entrances, new platforms, viaduct repairs and more. The project was announced in 2019.
News of the grant was first reported by the Tribune.
The 59th Street station’s current layout is not accessible for people with disabilities. The nearest accessible stop is 55th-56th-57th Street.
The 60th Street entrance to the station will reopen when the renovation is complete. That entrance was closed nearly 45 years ago — before Metra took over the old Illinois Central railroad in 1987 — and is about a block from the Obama Presidential Center site in Jackson Park.
Metra will install elevators at the 59th and 60th street entrances, relocate staircases, widen doors and install button-activated openers, among other improvements, to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements using the new grant funds, officials said.
The agency will also waterproof the bridge to prevent water leaks onto and into the station entrances, fix cracked viaduct columns and improve lighting near the entrances as part of the overall renovation, officials said.
The University of Chicago agreed in 2011 to commit $2.5 million to the upgrades. Metra has also designated $18 million in Rebuild Illinois bond funds and $2.4 million in federal funding supporting urban transit toward the work.
“The new grant, plus previously budgeted funds, is anticipated to generally be sufficient for the overall project based on current assumptions,” Metra spokesperson Meg Thomas-Reile said.
That would put the estimated project costs at about $60.5 million, up from an earlier estimate of $52.7 million.
A design for the renovation is expected to be completed in 2023, Metra spokesperson Mike Gillis said in May. Construction would start soon afterward and is expected to be finished in 2025.
A federal review similar to one completed for the Obama Center concluded the renovation’s modern design will have “adverse effects” by changing the look and feel of the Midway Plaisance and the rail line, which date back to the late 19th century.
Federal officials may require changes to the project so its design is more in line with the 59th and 60th Street viaducts and embankment, the Jackson Park Historic Landmark District and Midway Plaisance, Chicago’s boulevard system and the Metra Electric District.
A process to “avoid, minimize or mitigate” these effects is expected to be complete in early 2023, Metra officials said.
The findings are “part of an evaluation process that is required for every project that may impact historic districts or features,” Thomas-Reile said. “We are working through the process to mitigate any impacts and will adjust the project design as needed.”
Local transit agencies received $185 million in grants through the All Stations Accessibility Program, officials announced Monday.
Metra will also receive a $29 million grant to improve the 95th Street-Chicago State University station on the Metra Electric line. The grant will cover costs to install elevators, reconstruct the platform, build a pedestrian tunnel to the Chicago State campus and install audio and visual displays.
Other upgrades planned for the 95th Street project include new headhouses on the platforms, waiting areas with on-demand heat and a new parking lot with a kiss-and-ride area. The project is in the design phase, with construction expected to start in late 2023.
“Metra is excited to incorporate full [Americans with Disabilities Act] access into both of these two major station projects, in support of our educational institution partners and the communities we serve,” Thomas-Reile said.
The Chicago Transit Authority will also receive $118.5 million in federal infrastructure money to install elevators, ramp upgrades and put in signs at “L” stops on Irving Park Avenue, Belmont Avenue and Pulaski Road, federal transportation officials said.
The CTA has multiple “L” lines with stops along those roads, and it’s unclear which routes will see the station improvements. CTA spokespeople did not respond Monday to requests for comment.