WJBC Voices: Let’s build the Normal underpass

By Mike Matejka

With winter upon us, consider what it takes to catch a northbound train at Amtrak’s Normal Uptown Station.  Two years ago, the platforms south of the tracks were rebuilt and they are now used for some trains.  To reach the platforms, passengers must walk west to Linden Street or east to Broadway, cross the tracks there, and then back track to the platforms.  With icy, slushy, cold weather, imagine lugging a suitcase or two to catch the train.  It’s ridiculous.

Luckily, a solution is apparent.  Normal has been awarded a $13 million federal grant to build an underpass at the Amtrak station.  This will allow passengers to easily access the platform, it will also allow pedestrians and cyclist to easily use the Constitution Trail and link the north and south legs.  I bike on the trail and it’s rather clumsy to get from the north side to the south side.  One rides along the station platform and then make a tight turn at Linden.  If passengers, pedestrians or families with strollers are there, it can be difficult.

Safety is the additional key component for building an underpass.  Longer and longer freight trains are using the Union Pacific Railroad two tracks.  They often stop before entering the Bloomington yards, blocking street intersections in Normal.   Too often students hurrying to class try to climb through or under the freight cars.  This is a tragedy waiting to happen, particularly with two active rail lines.  Imagine a student scrambling on train cars and the train suddenly starts; or climbing through the cars, talking on a cell phone and alighting on the opposite side, just as Amtrak comes swooshing by.   We don’t need a tragedy to a young life.

Some might argue that an at-grade crossing at the Station from one platform to the other is the inexpensive solution.  Convincing the Union Pacific Railroad to allow a pedestrian crossing over their tracks will be a non-starter.  The Railroad, not the Town, owns the tracks.   Plus that would need Illinois Commerce Commission permission.

An underpass would open development possibilities on the track’s south side.  With an underpass, businesses, a new library or affordable community housing could be built.  The underpass would allow those enterprises on the south to access Uptown Station buses and businesses seamlessly.  Businesses locating on the south side can then help build the local tax base.

Finally, when was the last time federal dollars came to our community?  If Normal says no, imagine the response when Normal or other McLean County governments try to win local enhancements and return some of our tax dollars home?  The word in Washington, D.C. will be don’t offer grants to McLean County, they won’t accept it.

An underpass makes sense – it makes sense for Amtrak riders, for Constitution Trail users and for economic development.   Hopefully the Town Council will have the vision to support it.

Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society. He currently serves on the Normal Planning Commission. 

The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.


In these troubled times, to my fellow white Americans

By Mike Matejka Our nation is at a unique watershed in human relations. African-Americans have been killed too many times in the past before George Floyd, but the response to this man’s death is international and all-encompassing. I was a grade-schooler during the Civil Rights 1960s. I watched Birmingham demonstrators hosed and the Selma – Montgomery…

Workers’ Memorial Day – Remember those whose job took their life

Looking around our community, when we say employer, most will respond to State Farm, Country, or Illinois State University.   We too often forget those who are building our roads, serving our food, or our public employees. COVID-19 has made us more aware of the risk.  Going to work every day for some people means…

Everyone counts and you could make the difference

By Mike Matejka How many federal dollars will there be for road repairs?  To feed hungry families?  How many Illinois representatives will there be in Congress?  Are Illinois communities going to get their fair share? There’s only one way to ensure our community gets treated properly – answer the census. The every ten year U.S. census,…

Reactions to the “A Community in Conflict” exhibit

By Mike Matejka Every community has its home-town pride; Bloomington-Normal is proud to claim Steak n’ Shake and MASH TV star McLean Stevenson.  We’ve also had a moment of contention and conflict.  Sometimes these are uplifting stories of human progress. At other times, they cause us to shake our heads and wonder why. The McLean…