Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chicago rail projects getting a $100-million federal boost

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A program to reduce train congestion in the Chicago area is getting a major boost with $100 million in federal stimulus money for 16 rail projects, officials said Feb. 16, the Chicago Tribune reports. That's good news for frustrated Metra and Amtrak passengers, harried motorists and anxious shippers who are victims of affected by snarled freight train traffic, officials said. And as part of the stimulus program's primary goal, the program is expected to create thousands of jobs.

 

The federal grant, being announced Feb. 17, will be used to fund the 16 rail projects under the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program, CREATE. It's intended to unclog bottlenecks that cause freight trains to take a day or longer to pass through Chicago and block passenger trains and vehicles.

The program includes overpasses or underpasses and track and signal improvements, including a bridge to separate rail and road traffic to be built at an existing rail crossing on 71st Street in Bridgeview.

The projects will cut rail transit delays by 57,631 passenger hours per year and reduce motorist delays by 344,499 hours annually for a combined savings of nearly $10 million per year, according to CREATE, a public-private partnership of railroads and Chicago and state transportation agencies. Train delays cost shippers $265 million a year, CREATE estimates.

A multimodal transportation project in downstate Normal will be awarded $22 million and the Tri-State Port Authority in the St. Louis Metro-East area will get $6 million, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

The grants are among $1.5 billion in stimulus funding to be announced Feb. 17 by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Competition among states for the federal stimulus dollars was intense. Illinois agencies filed 49 requests for more than $2.3 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grants, a program announced one year ago.

Illinois officials and the railroad industry said the awarding of the federal grant to the CREATE program was great news.

The $100 million, combined with state capital funding and other federal money, will push the project ahead, said Edward Hamberger, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Railroads, part of the coalition of freight railroads, along with Amtrak, Metra, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation in CREATE.

"This funding will allow CREATE to continue untangling the knots in the Chicago region's passenger and freight rail system," U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., said. "It will help create jobs, shorten commutes, reduce shipping times, lower fuel usage and pollution, make high-speed rail a reality and cement our region's position as America's transportation hub."

The grant "protects our position as the biggest rail state in the nation," said Gary Hannig, head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, which submitted the proposal.

The $22-million grant to Normal will go toward construction of a multimodal transportation center in the city's downtown. The center will replace the existing and inadequate Amtrak station, dubbed "Amshack'' by Mayor Chris Koos. In addition to serving Amtrak trains and future high-speed trains on the planned 110-mph Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor, the transportation center will be used by interstate and regional buses, airport shuttles, taxis and Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System buses.

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