Last week, Skokie trustees approved a procedural matter in terms of the new Oakton Street stop on the CTA's Yellow Line. In and of itself, it was a relatively minor matter, but it was just one more step in completing the station that is expected to bring more pedestrian traffic to the village.
At the meeting, trustees amended the existing intergovernmental agreement between the village and the CTA to use unused fare collection equipment the CTA had at its disposal instead of going out and purchasing new equipment. Village officials think that this will result in a savings of about $171,000.
This action represents just the latest twist in what is now a near decadelong odyssey to construct the Oakton station. It will be the first time there will be train traffic at the location since Harry Truman was the president.
The village and businesses have high hopes of the station drawing customers into downtown Skokie. In a sense, there is a back to the future element to this story as it is not the first time there has been a stop on Oakton.
According to the website Chicago-l.org, there was a public transportation stop at the Oakton Street site until 1948. But it was not used from 1948 to 1963, when the depot was demolished.
In 1964, the Skokie Swift line was created and provided direct service from Dempster Street in Skokie to Howard Street in Chicago. That has been the situation ever since, but in 2003 a village study recommended construction of a stop at Oakton was the best location to enhance potential downtown business development.
After grants were secured to continue the process of establishing a station, the other major factor in resurrecting the Oakton stop was the creation and development of the new on Searle Parkway, where 1,200 people have been working as of April.
“The technology workforce tends to prefer more urban housing choices," said Steve Marciani, a planner for the village. “This station provides rail access to homes on the lakefront in Chicago.”
The stop will mark the first new station for the CTA on any of its L lines since one was added to the Green Line in 2001.
Eventually, the cost of the Oakton station will be about $20 million. A federal highway administration grant will pay for $14 million of the project; the other $6 million will come from the village’s tax increment financing (TIF) coffers.
After the money was secured, a groundbreaking ceremony took place in June 2010 and construction began several months later. Skokie Public Works Director Max Slankard acknowledged that there were some anxious moments along the way at last week’s meeting--the station is expected to open in January. He estimated the project was 45 percent completed.
There is no way to know exactly how many people will use the station, but Marciani noted that every weekday 2,878 people took the train in June from the Dempster stop. An estimated 2,900 used the stop on weekends. That translates into 75,000 boardings a week at Dempster.
When the 2003 study was commissioned, there was a projection that at least 1,200 people would using the Oakton station, but that was before the Science and Technology Park was built.
Not surprisingly, the local business community is very excited pedestrian traffic as people walk to and from the new station. There will be opportunities for “kiss ‘n ride” and there will be car-sharing company parking and bus station stops. But unlike the Yellow Line at Dempster, there will be no parking lot.
“We do know it is a commuter station meant to bring people into the area,” said Howard Meyer, executive director of the Skokie Chamber of Commerce. “It is not going to be a large parking lot and we hope it will bring great development onto Skokie Boulevard in addition to the downtown area.”
Miles believes there is a potential for an additional 6,500 jobs at the Science and Technology Park once the new station is completed.
On a personal level, Miles is also very excited since he suspects many of his customers will use the stop.
“Naturally, since my business services the quick-eat as well as a full-service restaurant and sports bar,” he said.
Then there is the perspective of Dana Kruger, the owner of Sweety Pies, a bakery on Lincoln Avenue where she has been operating in her current location for almost two years. Kruger is taking a wait-and-see approach on how the Oakton stop will affect her business.
“We are already open to hit the early crowd,” she said. “I’m hoping it will bring more people in during the hours we are currently open. We will expand hours if necessary and if there seems to be a demand.”
As the sluggish economy has taken its toll on Skokie, most think the Oakton stop will do some good in terms of spiking interest in the village’s central business district.
“We’ve been hoping for a presence downtown,” Miles said. “It can be a point of departure and arrival to bolster the economic engine of downtown Skokie.”