71st Street underpass opens near Toyota Park
By Kate Thayer
A long-awaited underpass that opened Saturday in Bridgeview is expected to improve traffic flow around nearby Toyota Park, where cars were often stalled by slow-moving trains.
The new 71st Street underpass will allow traffic to drive under the CSX and Indiana Harbor Belt tracks near Harlem Avenue. The crossing, just west of the 20,000-seat arena where the Chicago Fire play, sees about 80 trains a day, often creating traffic backups.
The $30 million project began about two years ago and involved separating four tracks.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., announced the underpass opening Saturday. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member pushed for funding for the project, which also created nearly 300 construction jobs, he said.
"This project, by separating the road from the rails, means less time stuck in traffic, improved safety, healthier air and increased efficiency in moving goods," Lipinski said in a news release.
Lipinski helped secure funds for the project, which was part of the regional CREATE program. The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program includes 70 projects designed to improve the rail system with federal, state and local funding. Of the program's planned 25 rail grade separation projects, the 71st Street underpass is the third to be completed, Lipinski said.
"It was creating a lot of delays and congestion in the area," said Lipinski spokesman Guy Tridgell.
Southwest suburban residents often avoided the area on game days or when musical acts played at the venue. About 4,400 vehicles pass through the crossing each day, and train speeds average 5 to 10 mph, officials said.
Tridgell said there are plans for similar rail grade separations, including one at 63rd Street and Harlem Avenue, in an effort to ease traffic congestion caused by freight trains.
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