Fixing crumbling infrastructure no easy task

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

It must have seemed like it was raining concrete at the Dixie Highway viaduct for a few days in mid-April. 
 
On April 8, police received two reports of debris falling from the structure, hitting cars and damaging windshields, and on April 10 a report was filed of someone throwing rocks at vehicles in the vicinity.
 
“Raining” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the incidents point to a problem that an umbrella will not address. 
 
The latter (rock thrower) is a problem the police will try to solve by apprehending the culprit if they can. The former (crumbling viaduct) is a much more expensive, complex problem with no quick solution apparent.
 
In addition, flooding has been a problem in the viaduct for many years. The Illinois Department of Transportation has studied the problem for more than a decade. Homewood Public Works Director John Schaefer last year shared with the Chronicle a study that was done in 2004. It identifies problems that still have not been addressed.
 
The project is now on IDOT’s plan for 2019-2024 projects, but funding apparently isn’t in place, so the project timeline remains uncertain.
 
Another local situation that illustrates how tough infrastructure projects can be is the Homewood train station, which has needed major renovations for years. 
 
Like the viaduct, its maintenance involves several large public and private bureaucracies, each with its own rules, interests and funding challenges. Metra and Amtrak have primary responsibility for the station itself, including the buildings on either side of the track, the tunnel, elevators and boarding platforms, but the rail corridor also includes Canadian National (CN) Railway, ComEd, South Suburban Mass Transit District, the village of Homewood and PACE bus service.
 
Metra unveiled the concept for a major renovation of the station in July 2017, two years after the company completed a limited maintenance project to clean up and repair its portion of the facility.
 
Amtrak, which has funding available for work on its platform and on the west side of the tracks, had hoped to start work last summer, but complications in dealing with ComEd’s electric lines in the area slowed progress. 

Metra, however, does not have funding in place, so there is no firm estimate for when engineering and construction work could begin. 
 
Homewood Assistant Village Manager Napoleon Haney, the village’s liaison to the project, provided an update recently.
 
He said engineering design work for the project is about 85 percent done for the Metra portion, 95 percent for Amtrak. 
 
The village and Metra recently applied for a Surface Transportation Program grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which would fully fund the project.
 
“If the grant comes through, the project would start moving forward,” Haney said.
 
That still leaves the ComEd portion, which involves relocating power lines during parking lot and accessibility ramp construction on the west side. 
 
Haney thinks the project is going well considering its complexity. 
 
Compared to needed improvements at the viaduct, he’s right. The station project is zooming along.
 
The Homewood train station and Dixie Highway viaduct need work. The village and other various entities are trying to make it happen, but infrastructure deterioration is a national problem, and these two cases are our window into how difficult it is to solve.
 
Iwo Jima flag gets more signatures
Two years ago, we published a story about John Beele’s Iwo Jima flag project (“Iwo Jima flag honors Marines’ sacrifice with signatures of survivors”). 
 
In the piece, he talked about how much signing the flag has meant to the elderly veterans who survived that bloody World War II battle. One Crown Point, Indiana, veteran who was frail and uncommunicative suddenly started talking about his memories. 
 
The man died a short time later.
 
Beele, who is the commander of the local VFW post, is still reaching out to Iwo Jima veterans whenever he can. In February, he attended a reunion of Iwo Jima veterans to mark the 74th anniversary of the battle. 
He got six more signatures. One of the veterans who signed died a week later.
 
I asked Beele how long he planned to keep going with the flag project. At some point, he plans to place the flag in a military museum. 
 
“There’s still guys around,” he said, noting that he will know it’s time to call the museum “when you read a news story that the last Iwo Jima veteran has died.”
 
  John Beele, right, poses at the Iwo Jima memorial in
  Washington, D.C., with five veterans of the battle
  who signed his flag.
(Provided photo)

 

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