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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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