Motorists drive southbound under the Harlem Avenue viaduct on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Oak Park. | Alex Rogals

The Chicago Transit Authority has made the removal of the unused water tower in its Harlem Yard a priority. But while both CTA and the village of Forest Park floated the possibility of River Forest and Oak Park sharing some of the costs, Oak Park and River Forest won’t be taking part in cost-sharing.

Located at the northeast corner of Forest Park, 1 S. Harlem Ave., the Harlem Avenue railyard is used to store and service the CTA trains at the west end of the Green Line. River Forest is located immediately north of the train embankment, and Oak Park is east of the yard, on the other side of Harlem Avenue. Complaints about the rusted water tower from all sides go back to the early 2000s, but while CTA indicated it intends to remove it, there has been little progress.

The transit agency previously wanted to remove the tower as part of the larger renovation of the Harlem yard, which hasn’t seen significant modifications since it was completed in 1967. But in the Nov. 17, 2022 letter to Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, Oak Park Village President Vicki Scaman, and River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci, CTA President Dorval Carter indicated that the water tower will be removed separately, potentially speeding up the project. He also said the CTA would be willing to work with all three villages to share the costs.

But Adduci said that, while River Forest supports the removal of the tower, they see no reason to contribute financially, since the tower isn’t on their land. She emphasized that her village would support Forest Park in other ways, such as writing the letter of support in grant applications. And while Scaman was less categorical in the rejection, she also said Oak Park shouldn’t be expected to chip in financially.

The Harlem railyard was built in 1963-1967, after CTA raised the suburban portion of what is now the Green Line onto the current embankment. The water tower was initially used to supply water to fire suppression sprinklers and railcar-washing equipment. But, as the decades wore on, the tower rusted and fell into disuse. Over the past two decades, Forest Park and River Forest businesses and residents have increasingly complained about the increasingly rusty eyesore.

The CTA is currently working on a plan to rebuild the entire Harlem yard. In his letter to the village heads, Carter said the project isn’t ready to proceed because the CTA needs to secure funding. As with other infrastructure projects, it is expected to be largely funded through a combination of state and federal sources. But Carter said he saw no reason to hold up the water tower demolition while the yard project is in limbo.

“I directed my Infrastructure Department to prioritize the removal of the water tower, independent of the Harlem yard renewal project,” he wrote. “As a result, we are currently advancing a separate project for this purpose.”

Carter thanked the three officials “for offering to work with CTA to share in the removal costs,” and “we look forward and welcome a partnership with you and your municipalities.”

During the Nov. 28 Forest Park Village Council meeting, Hoskins described the letter as a “positive development,” especially in light of the development that has taken place along nearby Desplaines Avenue.

In his Dec. 8 presentation to Forest Park School District 91, Forest Park Village Administrator Moses Amidei said the CTA doesn’t currently have the money allocated for this purpose, so all three communities may be asked to pitch in. He added that the money from the Brown Street Station Tax Increment Financing District may be used for this purpose if the Illinois General Assembly extends the TIF, which is scheduled to expire by the end of this year.

Adduci said she welcomed Carter’s letter, but that River Forest won’t be contributing anything financially.

“Obviously the tower is on Forest Park land, and the tower belongs to the CTA, so River Forest has absolutely nothing to do with the tower itself, other than, in our mind, it is unsightly,” she said. “If Mayor Hoskins wanted to get a grant from the state or somebody else, we would support his efforts [with a letter of support].”

Scaman said any decision on the issue would be up to the Oak Park Village Board, but she didn’t believe “that it should be the village of Oak Park’s responsibility.” She echoed Adduci’s comments about supporting the removal in other ways.

“I do support Mayor Hoskins in the need to be removed and would further support him in advocating for funds from a responsible party or potential grant funds for its removal,” she said. “I appreciate Mayor Hoskins’ work in seeking its removal.”

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...