NORMAL — Several attendees at a public meeting Thursday on the future railroad crossing at Uptown Station threw their support behind an underpass — including the consultant studying the project.
The Normal City Council is set to decide in June what kind of railroad crossing, if any, to build to get Amtrak passengers and other pedestrians from the station to the south side of the tracks, but New York City-based engineering firm WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is making the case for an underpass with park and plaza attached.
"This one provides many very good amenities. It helps with safety. It has very little issues with connectivity. It helps people move between the different sides of the tracks. It also helps support economic development," said Stephanie Brown, lead planner for the engineering form on a team studying the project through a $1.4 million contract with the town of Normal.
The consultant, which presented on several crossing options, including building an overpass and building nothing, also will provide updated cost estimates. Normal's 2014 Uptown 2.0 plan, which first recommended building an underpass, listed it at $12.7 million and the overpass at $8.6 million.
The council nearly bid the project as an overpass before delaying the decision. An underpass, if that option is selected, is three to five years from completion and would require state or federal funding, town officials have said.
John Croft and Bill Hammitt, both Normal residents, encouraged the town to fight for an at-grade crossing, a much cheaper option that Amtrak and Union Pacific have ruled out. Ron Ulmer of Normal questioned why no party involved brought up the issue sooner.
"All these expenses are getting to be pretty difficult," Croft said, referring also to One Uptown on the Circle, a building under construction across Beaufort Street from Uptown Station. He suggested the crossing issue go to a referendum.
Bob Broad of Normal suggested the referendum on the crossing was the April 4 mayoral election, in which incumbent Mayor Chris Koos won a fourth term — though by a very narrow margin.
"It's been estimated the investments the town of Normal has made have returned something at the level of a 250 percent return. ... People say 'no' all the time. It's worth reminding ourselves that in virtually every case, the naysayers were wrong," Broad said. "The value to the town of these investments has been enormous. So let's keep doing it."
Patrick Dullard of Normal suggested the cost difference to the town between an overpass and underpass will be relatively small, given the need for state or federal money for the crossing. Under an 80-20 match, he said, a $4 million overall price difference costs the town only $800,000.
"I've asked the council to think about not just the taxpayers now but the taxpayers of the future," he said. "A forward-thinking, easily traveled way to get from one side to the other is probably our best long-term option."