The first detailed site plan for the Joliet Regional Transportation Center, the huge six-block project set to change the face of downtown, was unveiled to members of the ’s land use committee Wednesday.
With the landmark Union Station remaining the center’s focal point, the proposal calls for a new two-story train station to be built on the opposite side of the tracks with separate platforms for commuters using Metra’s Heritage Corridor and Rock Island train lines.
A 453-stall Metra parking lot would go on land southwest of the new station and a privately owned four-story parking deck is planned for a site east of the station, across from the Jefferson Street entrance to Silver Cross Field.
As proposed, Chicago Street would be extended between Jefferson and Washington streets, east of the ; traffic on Jefferson between Scott and Eastern Avenue would be converted to a two-way pattern; and a new Pace bus transportation center would be built in the corner of Metra’s new lot, facing a bus-turnaround loop.
“At the end of the day, when it all comes together, it’s really exciting,” said Chuck Smith, vice president and principle designer for Knight Engineers & Architects in Tinley Park.
That said, the $42 million transportation center—being funded with a $32 million state grant and money from the city and from Union Pacific and BNSF railroads—is also an extremely complicated project, City Manager Tom Thanas said.
The city will need to work out deals with the state of Illinois, the Federal Transit Administration, Will County, Metra, Pace and the railroads, each of which has to sign off on specific actions and timetables, he said.
Perhaps the most complex aspect will be the relocation of tracks so freight traffic is no longer hampered by commuter and Amtrak trains, Thanas said. The manual train switching system will be replaced with one that’s computer-activated and bridges supporting tracks will need to be rebuilt or reinforced.
The first phase of the project—the new Metra parking lot bordered by Washington, Chicago and Marion streets—will begin this summer and should be finished by year’s end, Thanas said. It will be followed next year by work on the “vertical” aspects of the project, he said.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Smith’s vision calls for a unifying theme in which lighting, pavement style and signs separate the center from the rest of downtown. Illuminated, tilted canopies will cover the two long commuter waiting platforms and landscaped open areas on Jefferson Street will provide space for vendors.
While Union Station will no longer be the main access point for train passengers, it will continue to house a substation for Joliet, Amtrak and Metra police and could house a coffee shop and rental desks for bikes and Zip Cars, he said.
The new station, featuring arched windows and a two-story open interior, will be reminiscent of the Union Station but will not seek to replicate it, said City Council member Don Fisher, who heads the land use committee.
“You don’t want to … mirror something as grand as Union Station,” he said. “But you want to take elements so it looks like it’s meant to be there.”
Smith’s firm also is conducting a study of Union Station to determine what the building needs to keep it structurally sound prior to the city’s replacement of its old glass windows. Enhancements may be proposed, including alterations to the second-floor banquet facility that could make it more physically and acoustically appealing, he said.
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