November 12, 2004

Commuters see signs of disrepair at Metra stop

News of the CTA budget deficit has University of Chicago students watching city buses and trains for symptoms of fiscal malnourishment, and some have noticed signs of disrepair at the Hyde Park Metra station. Several weeks ago, commuters were distressed to witness concrete rubble strewn on the sidewalk under the bridge that spans Lake Park Avenue and 56th Street.

Such symbols of neglect may mean that the CTA's budget crisis is affecting Metra trains and Pace buses. Metra officials are worried that the CTA's well publicized financial woes will prompt the state legislature to tighten Metra and Pace's fiscal belts in an effort to fund the city's transportation network. These officials issued a press release on October 25 detailing their opposition to the CTA's proposed regional funding formula.

Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano said there is need for additional funding for mass transit in this region. "The CTA is right on that score. But it would be wrong to promote a campaign that, in effect, would have the CTA taking money from Pace and Metra."

He argued that rerouting funds to the city's transportation provider away from the suburbs would weaken regional service because it limits the ability to lobby for federal funds. "Sacrificing suburban services because of the CTA's inability to live within its budget, or take advantage of short-term funding solutions, will not foster continued regional cooperation. To be very blunt, renewing the regional warfare could cost all of us critical funding—and that would be a disservice to the people we serve."

Metra officials, who boast a 97 percent on-time performance ratio, claim that their plans to connect more than 130 communities of the region with new service through the SouthEast line will be damaged by any cuts to its budget.

The tensions between the CTA and Metra come close on the heels of recently announced plans to re-designate the Electric District Hyde Park transfer station to 57th Street station from the 59th Street station.

The undertaking was part of a larger construction of new stations in Hyde Park. The decision to switch stations occurred after Metra officials heard from neighborhood residents who argued that the entrance at 57th Street is more centrally located within Hyde Park. There is no news as to whether the creation of new Hyde Park Metra stations has been abandoned because of the CTA's budget deficit.

Further conflicts arose between South Side residents and Metra when an inbound Metra train hit a man's station wagon as it ran along South Exchange Avenue and 74th Street on Thursday, November 4. A preliminary report suggested that the driver was attempting to beat the train, said Metra spokesman Tom Miller. The man was conscious when he was taken to the hospital.

In spite of all the financial and safety difficulties that Metra has faced in recent months, there are reports of improvements being made on commuter stations. On October 25, Metra officials and Palos Park community representatives broke ground on a project that would provide a new station depot and more parking spaces at the Palos Park stop on the Metra's SouthWest Service Line from Orland Park.

Chicago students are not entirely pessimistic about Metra's presence in Hyde Park. The debris beneath the 56th Street bridge was cleaned up in a few days.