Work begins on Winfield underpass

 

By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff

 

For Linda Fairbairn, the massive hole near the Metra station in downtown Winfield is a reminder that a long-sought pedestrian underpass will open next year.

"They can't turn back now," said Fairbairn, a resident who lobbied for the structure.

Indeed, village officials were only looking ahead Monday as they officially broke ground on the roughly $4 million project.

Construction of the 110-foot-long underpass, which will run beneath the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, is expected to be completed by October 2010. It will be handicapped accessible.

"This is a monumental project for the village," Trustee Jack Bajor said. "The important thing we want to stress here is the element of safety."

Bajor said the project was in the planning stages since 2001. In addition to giving pedestrians a safe way to way to cross the tracks, the underpass is expected to help the redevelopment of downtown.

At times, however, it appeared the project would never happen.

In recent years, some residents voiced opposition. And several board members said they didn't want village dollars spent on the work.

That prompted residents such as Fairbairn to start attending board meetings and distributing information trying to gain support.

"It didn't have 100 percent funding, and I think that's what caused the great divide," she said. "You had sitting board members who felt they didn't want to spend one penny.

"I can't fault them for not wanting to put money into it," she added. "But to me, there was a big picture here that they needed to see."

The funding problem was solved when various sources, including the state and federal government, contributed more than $3.9 million in grant money. Even Central DuPage Hospital contributed $50,000 and Union Pacific pledged $840,000.

As a result, Winfield won't need to borrow any money for the project.

"There's been a lot of people who have worked very passionately to make this underpass happen," Village President Deborah Birutis said.

Birutis said the project is one of several keys to downtown redevelopment. Others include a planned riverwalk and a proposed three- to four-story public parking garage.

The garage would be constructed on village-owned property near the underpass on the north side of the train tracks. Officials are seeking grant money for that $8 million to $10 million project.

"You've got to be able to take care of your parking with the development that's going to go on," Birutis said. "It might take a few years (to build the garage). But it's in the works."

In the meantime, resident Patti Weber said she's happy because the underpass will provide a safe route for children who must cross the tracks to go to school.

"I have four children," she said. "So I am thrilled that it's finally getting done."

 

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