Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Supporters of a proposal to add commuter rail service between Kenosha and Milwaukee say it would spur new development near the train stations that would be built in the communities that are served. "If you look at (train) stations around the country, you see that," said Ken Yunker, deputy director for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). "It varies, but certainly it can include residential development, typically higher density with condos, apartments and townhouses. It can also include some commercial space, retail and even some office development."
Palatine, Ill., is an example of a community that has attracted a significant amount of development around its commuter rail station. During the last six or seven years, several condominium and apartment buildings have been built within three or four blocks of the commuter rail train station in the village’s downtown. The area also has attracted some retail stores and restaurants.
Depending on the schedule, it takes between 45 minutes to one hour to ride the train from downtown Palatine to downtown Chicago.
"I think (the development near the train station) is only going to continue," said Ben Vyverberg, planning director for Palatine. "You can be downtown (on the train in 45 minutes to an hour) to work or to do all of the quality of life things you want to do in the city, and at the same time live in an area that is less hectic, has less traffic and has great schools."
The plans for the proposed commuter rail service in southeastern Wisconsin include stops in downtown Milwaukee, Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Caledonia, Racine, the Town of Somers and Kenosha.
For the most part, those communities will decide where their train stations will be located. Although the commuter rail service will probably not be operational until at least 2010, officials with each municipality that will be served are already making plans for where their train stations will be and are contemplating what development will occur around the stations.
Milwaukee and Kenosha already have train stations that are operational. The downtown Milwaukee Amtrak station at 433 W. St. Paul Ave. would also be used for the commuter rail service. The downtown Kenosha train station at 5413 13th Ave. is already used by the Chicago-area Metra commuter rail service.
Downtown Kenosha is attracting several condominium developments, including the HarborPark site, where Skokie, Ill.-based New England Builders Inc. has built about 350 condominiums and townhouses on the former site of a Chrysler plant. Residents of HarborPark can walk, take a short drive or ride the city’s streetcar to the train station to take Metra to downtown Chicago in about 90 minutes.
New England Builders has said that the Metra service in Kenosha has helped sell the residential units in HarborPark.
In Racine, city officials are restoring the train station in the 1400 block of State Street. The station was built in 1902 and has not been used by trains since 1971.
Two years ago, the city built a bus transfer center next to the train station. The train station restoration will be complete by the end of May. Then it will be used to provide bathrooms and a waiting area for people using the bus transfer center.
If the commuter rail service is extended through Racine, the old train station will become an operational train station once again. People coming to Racine on the train will also be able to take a bus to their final destination.
"We have a 1.25-acre redevelopment site immediately next to the bus transfer facility," said Brian O’Connell, Racine director of development. "What we will be looking for there is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development that we hope would include ground floor retail with residential (on the upper floors). More broadly, we expect the restoration of commuter rail service to be an incentive for redevelopment of the area around the station with new housing, (for) people interested in easy access to the train line, and some additional commercial development. It will fill in a gap between the heart of downtown and the downtown edge, where the train station is."
The train stations in Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, Caledonia and the Town of Somers will be new. Municipal officials in those communities are making plans about where the stations will be and what development they want to see around them.
The most ambitious plans are in Oak Creek. City officials expect the train station there to be located where Ryan Road crosses the Chicago and Northwestern railroad tracks.
That area is part of the Lakeview Village Mixed Use District, which is located along Lake Michigan and north of Bender Park. The city created a comprehensive plan for the district in 2002.
If the city’s plans for the area come to fruition, Lakeview Village will look nothing like the rest of Oak Creek. The comprehensive plan for the area calls for a dense cluster of multi-story residential, retail and office buildings. In the portion of Lakeview Village near Lake Michigan, some of the buildings could be as tall as 10 stories and could include a hotel and conference center.
Pedestrian-friendly, dense development near the train station is necessary to support the commuter rail service, Oak Creek director of community development Doug Seymour said.
"In order to support that type of transportation alternative, you can’t have something that’s so spread out," he said.
The city is waiting for developers to present proposals for the property in the Lakeview Village area, and city officials will use the comprehensive plan as a guide for the review and negotiation process with those developers, Seymour said.
"We’re hoping to help make it happen," he said. "Certainly, the rail plans are a big part of that."
The City of Cudahy owns land along the tracks between Layton Avenue on the north and Barnard Avenue on the south in the downtown area. The city has not decided if it will build the station on the east or west side of the tracks. A shuttle bus might be created to provide service from the Cudahy station to Mitchell International.
The train station would provide an additional boost to downtown Cudahy, which has attracted some development in recent years. The city’s new library was built near the train station site in 2003. In addition, 20 condominiums have been developed nearby, and eight more are under construction. Another condominium project downtown, which will begin construction this year, will provide another 64 units.
There is still some undeveloped land near the train station site that could be developed, Cudahy Mayor John Hohenfeldt said. In addition, the train station could help attract new retail tenants to the city’s historic downtown buildings.
"The city of Cudahy is well-prepared for when the Metra trains come through," he said.
In its comprehensive plan, the city of South Milwaukee has designated a parking lot north of Milwaukee Avenue and west of the railroad tracks as the location of its train station.
"The location is adjacent to our central business district, so hopefully it will increase development there," said Jac Zader, director of planning and inspection for South Milwaukee.
There is not much vacant land in that area for new development, but the train station could help attract new tenants to existing buildings, he said.
In Caledonia, preliminary plans have called for a train station north of Four Mile Road next to the Chicago and Northwestern tracks. Community feedback to that proposed location has been mixed, said village administrator Tom Lebak. The site is located near Highway 32, which is already the main commercial corridor in Caledonia.
Town of Somers
In the Town of Somers, a Northbrook, Ill.-based developer is already planning a housing and retail development which would include a train station. The developer, River Vista Homes LLC, plans to build 99 single-family homes and 84 townhouses, a train station and a small amount of retail space near the train station on 120 acres of undeveloped
land northwest of County Highway E and the Chicago and Northwestern railroad tracks.
The train station and retail space would be built just south of County Highway A along tracks.
Jay Hergott, owner of River Vista Homes LLC, said his firm would be interested in developing the property, even without the train station. The single-family homes will start at $399,000, and the townhouses will start at $299,000, he said.
Town officials have approved the conceptual plans for the development, but still must grant final approvals, Town Clerk/Treasurer Kay Goergen said. The community is supportive of the development and the addition of the commuter rail service, she said.
"In Somers we need new businesses to help our tax base," Goergen said. "Right now we’re mainly residential."
The Town of Somers station would be located about 1.5 miles east of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus and about two miles north of the Carthage College campus. Shuttle bus service could be established to take students and visitors from the train station to the campuses.
"There are a lot of kids from Milwaukee and Racine that go to Parkside," Goergen said. "I think they would use (the commuter rail service)."
The KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) commuter rail service could be up and running in 2010, Yunker said. The project is currently in the corridor study and environmental impact statement phase.
The total cost to establish the service has been estimated at $152 million and does not include the costs to operate it. The current study is looking at ways to reduce costs, including the possibility of having a smaller train operate between Milwaukee and Kenosha with transfers in Kenosha and Waukegan onto Chicago-area Metra commuter trains.
Service: The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail service.
When operational: Possibly by 2010
Cost to establish: $152 million
Web sites: www.transitnow.org/KRM.html and www.sewrpc.org/KRMonline
Likely Sites of Future Commuter Rail Stations
Cudahy: Between Layton Avenue and Barnard Avenue along the Chicago and Northwestern tracks.
South Milwaukee: Parking lot north of Milwaukee Avenue and west of the tracks.
Oak Creek: Intersection of Ryan Road and the tracks.
Caledonia: North of Four Mile Road next to the tracks.
Racine: Restored station in the 1400 block of State Street.
Town of Somers: Southwest of County Highway A and the tracks.