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New Metra Station Slated for Auburn Gresham

Carlos Nelson likes telling the story about how, as a boy, he’d stand by his grandmother's house and watch the Metra trains roar by en route to the Loop. 

Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., near the site of a new Metra station at 79th and Fielding that he aggressively campaigned for.

Gordon Walek

He didn' t know where they came from or who was on them, but it puzzled him that they no longer stopped in the northern end of his Auburn Gresham neighborhood, where plenty of residents had occasion to go downtown. Instead of a fast train, they had to cobble together CTA bus/rapid transit connections along busy 79th Street. 

Nelson, a practical person, didn’t let this injustice... derail him. Still, it stuck in his craw as he grew up, went to university, worked as a mechanical engineer, and, eventually became executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GADC). 

“Why isn’t this train stopping in our community?” he’d ask anyone who’d listen. “It used to, when the neighborhood was all white.” Indeed, the embankment at 79th Street still shows where the stairs were for a station. But for years the Rock Island line didn’t stop between 87th Street and downtown until the 35th Street station at the Illinois Institute of Technology opened after the demolition of the CHA’s Stateway Gardens Public Housing complex. 

In 2005, GAGDC led more than 200 neighborhood residents, business owners, institutional leaders and youth through a planning process. They said that building a “transit village” centered around a new Metra stop at 79th should be on the list as a key component of Auburn Gresham’s quality-of-life plan. Clearly, it wasn’t just Nelson who understood what a commuter rail station could mean for the community. 

A rendering of the new station and surrounding area.

Many of those same participants joined Nelson on a sunny Saturday morning in October, when Gov. Pat Quinn and other dignitaries, including State Senator Jacqueline Collins and Congressman Bobby Rush, gathered at 79th Street and South Fielding Avenue to announce that $21.5 million had been secured for a new station. 

Work will include improvements to a retaining wall and viaduct, station signs, an entry plaza with landscaping, bicycle parking facilities and a parking lot with a “kiss and ride” area. Ground will be broken on the Auburn Park station in early 2016. 

“Before coming to GADC, I’d never heard of community development or organizing,” said Nelson. For nearly a decade, he and his colleagues went from residents to Metra officials to state legislators to congressmen, hammering away at the need for a train stop in Auburn Gresham.

“I was trying to generate curiosity and ask questions. Why is something the way it is?” he said. “This fight with Metra involved a strategic, professional approach to something that appeared to be racially slanted.” 

The work isn’t done – the strategy for a transit village centered around that new stop includes housing, commercial development and amenities like public art. But when the first train pulls into the station, rest assured that Carlos Nelson will be on board.

The page from Auburn Gresham's 2005 quality-of-life plan that calls for a new Metra station on 79th Street.

Keywords: Auburn Gresham, Economic Development, Metra, Transit Oriented Development

Posted in Auburn Gresham in the News, Business, Housing, Economic Development, Community Highlights


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