OLD IRVING PARK — Northwest Side neighbors say extensive and behind-schedule construction to replace an old railroad bridge has damaged their homes, jammed side streets and caused excessive noise outside of the city’s allowable work hours.
Metra crews closed Milwaukee Avenue between Kilbourn and Kenneth avenues last summer to speed up a massive Metra project to upgrade the Grayland station and replace the nearby 122-year-old railroad bridge.
Milwaukee Avenue was originally slated to be closed for four months, but the reopening date has been pushed back multiple times because construction is taking longer than expected, officials previously said. It’s now scheduled to reopen to cars, bicyclists and pedestrians at the end of the year, Metra officials said.
The prolonged construction has frustrated neighbors. Some told Block Club construction has started as early as 4 or 5 a.m., rattling their homes and waking them up.
“At times, I’ve woken up at 5:30 a.m. for work, and they are going … this is very odd. They should not be starting this early,” said Vanessa Hall, who lives a block away from the construction. “You want to wake up in peace.”
Amanda Marien, who lives a few blocks away, said the loud noise started before 8 a.m. a couple of weeks ago, though it wasn’t loud enough to wake her up.
The project’s construction permit, issued in September 2022 by the city’s transportation department, indicates crews are violating local rules. Work is allowed 24/7, but the city’s noise ordinance must be followed, according to the permit.
This means crews can set up earlier but should not be using motorized equipment prior to 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m., a transportation spokesperson said.
City officials have asked crews to follow the noise ordinance, which Metra will comply with, spokesperson Michael Gillis said.
Other neighbors have reported cracked drywall and other damage to their homes from the construction vibrations.
Chicago attorney Glen Dunn is representing some of the neighbors who want compensation from Metra and its contractor for those damages, he said. Project crews have damaged private property by not installing the proper vibration protections to prevent impact to homes, he said.
They are looking into a lawsuit, Dunn said.
“That delayed this whole project and pushed it into an emergency work order, which is violating the city codes [and] terrorizing the residents,” Dunn said.
The work needs to be done and the old bridge must be replaced, but the agencies involved have not listened to neighbors to keep them informed and safe, Dunn said.
“Local governments and organizations like Metra have the right to disrupt your lives but they need to pay for it …. it’s not like they get to get off scot-free,” he said.
Metra officials did not immediately respond to Dunn’s comments about construction causing damage to homes.
The complaints prompted Ald. Ruth Cruz (30th) to host a community meeting last week to address concerns with Metra officials.
“It was a tough conversation. But I wanted to make sure that my residents had the opportunity to express their concerns and have a plan where Metra was present to answer any questions,” Cruz said.
The bridge construction is expected to be finished by November, after which the closed segment of Milwaukee could reopen.
Additional work on the new station is expected to continue through the end of 2024, Cruz and Gillis said. Next phases of construction include moving hundreds of feet of railroad tracks from the temporary bridge to the new bridge, then demolishing the temporary bridge, Gillis said.
Weather could still affect that timeline, officials said.
“If we have a really bad winter, there’s not going to be much work they’re going to be able to do,” Cruz said.
In response to neighbor complaints, a website with updates for the Milwaukee and Kilbourn construction should be ready by the end of the week, Gillis said.
“Metra will be working with Alderman Cruz and CDOT for the street closures based on work progress for the bridge and station,” Gillis said. “If Milwaukee Avenue needs to be closed longer than the end of the year in 2023, Metra will notify the community well in advance.”
Apart from the noise, resident Vanessa Hall said the detour off Milwaukee Avenue and congestion from nearby side streets is creating a bottleneck at the Milwaukee and Addison intersection, endangering everyone using the road. Some drivers trying to skirt the construction also are driving the wrong way down one-way side streets, she said.
Ordering a Lyft or Uber is difficult because drivers get lost and don’t know how to get around the closed section, she said.
An improved stop sign will be placed at Kilbourn this week to alleviate some of those issues, and Metra will look for other areas where they can upgrade signs to better control traffic, Gillis said.
Despite their frustrations with the Metra project and the nearby Aldi lot, which crews drilled pylons into last week, some neighbors hope it means work will be finished on schedule.
“We hope they get all the drilling done while the weather is still good, so they hit their deadline of reopening Milwaukee in spring,” Marien said. “If the community pushes back on the noise too much, we might be delayed even longer.”
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