Former McHenry County College Trustee Scott Summers has written about the Ridgefield train station that Metra has proposed. His essay follows:
A Metra station at Ridgefield: Making a Good Thing Better
by Scott Summers
Much has been said of Metra’s plans to buy land in Ridgefield for a new commuter train station. A parcel already is under contract, subject to contingencies. The City of Crystal Lake is weighing annexation and other matters.
There is, however, a much better location for the station: about three blocks to the south and east, at the intersection of Tartan Drive and Ridgefield Road. It’s the easterly entrance to McHenry County College.
Why is it better?
Because the public already owns fifty-seven acres of vacant land there!
Two years ago, MCC “land banked” this acreage in order to assure plenty of room for future growth.
So if the public owns considerable property in the vicinity already – why spend in excess of a million dollars for more?
Especially for land that’s roughly three blocks farther away from what’s likely to be the largest generator of passengers for the station — McHenry County College!
Let’s be clear:
MCC’s land is not contiguous to the train.
Ridgefield Road lies between the MCC entrance and the tracks. Land for the station proper needs to be purchased.
But parking? Place the requisite commuter parking on the presently unused MCC property. The College can lease (rather than sell) the land to the City of Crystal Lake, which would in turn manage the lots. In the event the land is required for campus expansion some decades hence, a lease would permit easy reversion to MCC.
By leasing out MCC’s vacant property, the Metra land acquisition funds can be freed up instead for station and traffic improvements, including a bike and walking trail covering the three or so blocks from the station site up to the campus proper.
Traffic issues – very difficult in Ridgefield, to be sure – would be mitigated through lot entrances and vehicle flows concentrated along Tartan Drive.
Let’s sketch out some of the other benefits of a train station at Ridgefield.
Access – or, more correctly, lack thereof – has been a chronic problem at the College ever since the facility was sited on Route 14 almost forty years ago.
Public transit options are severely limited: the Crystal Lake train station is almost four miles away, and PACE bus service is sporadic.
In other words – unless you can drive to MCC, you’re basically out of luck.
And given the ever-worsening countywide traffic congestion, and suboptimal roads, and winter and nighttime driving hazards, and gas prices, and climate change, well – driving is not exactly ideal in any event.
A public transportation option for the College grows more compelling every day.
A train stop three blocks away (as opposed to six blocks, under the present plan) would of course benefit the students and faculty and staff directly.
But it would benefit all of the county as well.
It would ease automobile traffic.
It would open up attendance opportunities at the College.
It would make the campus a county – indeed, a regional – focus for concerts and other cultural events.
A Ridgefield station would drive economic development in the vicinity.
The stretch of Route 14 between Crystal Lake and Woodstock already is slated for business and retail uses.
A commuter train station in the vicinity would be a boon to businesses, workers, retailers, and shoppers alike.
So let’s marry two of our very best public resources – Metra and MCC. And let’s use vacant public land for the purpose!
We all know that McHenry County is a great place to live. Let’s make it better.
“Take a train to college!” Our good fortune in this respect would be the envy of communities throughout the country.
This magnificent opportunity is ours for the taking. Let’s seize it!
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Scott Summers was a trustee at McHenry County College between 2005 and 2009. Summers is also the Green Party candidate for State Treasurer.