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Aurora bridge improves safety at once-deadly railroad crossing

December 20, 2016

A new bridge carries Route 34 over the Canadian National railroad in Aurora, where two teens were killed when a train struck their car in 1999. Now, two lanes of traffic in each direction as well as bicyclists and people on foot can continue on their way while an average of 42 trains a day pass below.

Two lanes of traffic in each direction can cross over the Canadian National railroad on the far East side of Aurora without stopping for trains now that a $46 million project is complete.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, state Sen. Linda Holmes, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, Aurora acting Mayor Robert O’Connor, former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, Aurora Ward 8 Alderman Rick Mervine and IDOT Project Development Engineer Jose Rios applaud the government cooperation it took to build an overpass for Route 34 at the Canadian National railroad tracks on the far East side of Aurora. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

Originally published by Daily Herald.

Construction crews building a bridge to carry Route 34 over the Canadian National railroad in Aurora paid so much attention to detail that they preserved and relocated a memorial to two teens killed at the crossing nearly two decades ago.

The bridge allows cars, bicyclists and people on foot to pass over the moving trains, city and state officials said Wednesday as they celebrated the $46 million structure with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Safety concerns at the railroad crossing on Aurora’s far east side, not far from Waubonsie Valley High School, came to the forefront in April 1999, when 16-year-old Waubonsie junior Krishna Bharadwaj of Naperville and 16-year-old Downers Grove South junior Arvin Rao of Westmont were killed when a train struck their car.

It took nearly 10 years after their deaths for the bridge construction project to get started. Former Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said he remembers the news came on Christmas Eve 2008 that the project could move forward and Canadian National would pay two-thirds of the total cost — roughly $30 million.

Through ongoing coordination among the city, DuPage County and state lawmakers, the city ensured IDOT would pay the remaining $15 million. That left Aurora to chip in about $400,000 for two nearby water main projects, upgraded railings and painting, said Ken Schroth, director of public works and city engineer.

The bridge work slowed traffic and caused delays for years on Route 34, also known as Ogden Avenue or the Walter Payton Memorial Highway. But it was worth the wait for an improvement that means smoother, safer travel, said Aurora Alderman Rick Mervine, whose 8th ward includes the crossing just west of Frontenac Avenue.

“A community such as ours needs that infrastructure,” Mervine said. “You need to be able to handle the number of people who have chosen to make this area their home. You need it for commerce.”

Without a bridge, Rios said many of the 31,200 cars that pass by the site each day were sitting and waiting, wasting a collective average of 73 hours a day. Now, cars can continue on their way while an average of 42 trains a day pass by below.

The bridge helps anyone in the area on bike or on foot, too, with a 14-foot-wide bike path on one side and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the other. Installed at the foot of one of the walls is the memorial to the late teens, a granite stone carrying on their memory as vehicles travel past.

“The grade separation will reduce delays in the area significantly,” said Jose Rios, program development engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation’s District 1.”

We now have the ability to be able to move more freely within our own community,” Mervine said.