Joliet eyes tighter security at new transportation center
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2013 9:38PM
The Joliet police have an office now at Union Station, but it is not regularly staffed. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:16AM
JOLIET — The city plans to make video monitoring an expanded safety feature of its new transportation center.
The city council is slated to vote Tuesday on a contract to renovate the police substation at Union Station and make it suitable for the improved security system that’s in the works.
“We’re going to have a modern surveillance system, which has become commonplace in most modern facilities,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said.
Joliet has security cameras at Union Station now, but it’s not as extensive as what the city will have in the new system. More cameras, better lighting and new buildings will make commuters feel safer when getting on and off the trains, Thanas said.
“What we have to fight in downtown Joliet is a perception that it is not safe,” he said. “I think when commuters see the new level of security that we have at our station they will be impressed.”
It’s not all coming at once. Renovating the police substation will likely start soon after the council approves the contract, but that work does not include security cameras, which still must be approved.
City officials are determining whether there is enough money to install video cameras in the older parking lots that commuters will use along with the new ones that are part of the transportation center project.
Perceptions of safety vary among commuters, sometimes depending on whether they get off the trains during the day or at night.
“I’ve heard so many stories about this area,” said Cody Farmer, a recent Joliet resident who now lives in Chicago but was at Union Station after taking the train Friday. “I think cameras are needed around here, especially at nighttime.”
Everett Barker, of Joliet, said he does not use the train much but has seen vagrants and drunks hanging around Union Station. Even so, he said police “are usually around,” and the main police station is only a few blocks away.
Hannah Hesslau, of Morris, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she uses the train to return home from school and feels the area “is safe for the most part.”
“I feel OK,” Hesslau said as she waited outside Union Station for a ride home. “It’s just that I don’t know my way around the area.”
She said more cameras would likely enhance the sense of security for commuters.
“I could understand why they would want to make people feel safer,” Hesslau said. “It would attract more people to their station.”
Tower Contracting, of Markham, submitted the low bid of $272,300 for the substation remodeling, about $20,000 below the city estimate. The office will be equipped to allow monitoring of the camera system and also may be enlarged.
The existing police substation is not staffed 24 hours, and Thanas said the renovated one is not likely to be staffed at all times either. But he said the camera monitoring can be done at the communications center at the police station when the train station office is not manned.
Joliet is adding new train and bus stations for its Joliet Gateway Center, but Union Station will remain part of the complex. The $43.4 million project is supported by a $32 million state grant and $7.5 million in city money, as well as contributions from railroads that will benefit from a new track layout that will separate freight trains from commuter rail.
The project is expected to be completed in 2015 but could run into 2016 depending on challenges faced in changing the layout of the tracks. The bus station and turnaround area for buses would open first.