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Lincoln’s hometown fighting high-speed rail set to cut city in half

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The State of Illinois is in a rush to swallow up Federal Stimulus money earmarked for the development of high-speed rail services, the Illinois Statehouse Examiner reports. However, in the rush to meet the arbitrary deadlines imposed by the stimulus package, state officials are giving little consideration to the economic impact of communities along the high-speed rail system.  

Illinois government has
long envisioned a high-speed rail system connecting Chicago and St. Louis and
now that vision may be realized due to the availability of stimulus money. Unfortunately,
as the rail system takes a step closer to reality, communities along the system
are recognizing that the negative economic impact of the high-speed rail system
may be greater than any potential economic benefit.

Take for instance,
President Lincoln’s hometown, Springfield, Illinois, where city officials,
business and community leaders are coming together for the first time in years
to lobby the Illinois Commerce Commission to abandon their current high-speed
rail plans and relocate the system to a more favorable route. The current plans
for high-speed rail are set to run along a corridor that will essentially cut
Springfield and its downtown in half, causing major disruptions to traffic flow
and long-term development plans centered around the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library.

The current $2.3-billion
agreement reached between Union Pacific and the State of Illinois calls for an
upgrade to accommodate high-speed rail access along the Third Street corridor
in the capitol city. Included in the plans would be the elimination of multiple
railroad crossings and the installation of railway overpasses with lead-ins
extending nearly a quarter of a mile on each side. The route would position the
high-speed rail within a block of the Capitol complex, dividing the downtown in
half and dividing access to the cities medical district. In addition, the
proposed route would run through the heart of densely populated neighborhoods
and increase traffic upon the tracks to upward of 40 trains per day.

The City of Springfield has
invested millions of dollars toward developing a revitalized downtown centered
around the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and millions more in developing
a new medical district centered upon the cities three hospital networks, two of
which rank among the nations top 100. The division of the downtown would not
only create heavy congestion but would also economic hardship as commuters
further turn away from the downtown area in an effort to avoid the congestion. The
cities hospital systems which would now be separated by an overpass and have
access routes limited, have already expressed deepened concern about the close
proximity of the highly magnetized rail lines to the sensitive instrumentation
used in the facilities.

In a rare occurrence in the
community, City Officials, County officials, the Chamber of Commerce, multiple
homeowners’ associations, Downtown Springfield, Inc. and multiple other groups
have come together to voice opposition and hold rallies to bring awareness to
the state’s plans. Springfield and surrounding community leaders are not
opposed to high-speed rail service, but have proposed the use of another rail
corridor located on the outskirts of the downtown area running along a less
populated and more industrialized route. The alternative Tenth-Street Corridor
would provide less disruption to traffic patterns, already has a system of over
and underpasses in place and would not have a negative impact upon a downtown
area that the city and private businesses have spent millions of dollars
revitalizing.

Illinois Department of
Transportation officials have stated that the tenth street corridor is not a
consideration because the Federal Stimulus deadlines have not allowed enough
time to study any alternatives. Springfield officials who have turned for help
from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin have been met with no response as to the Senator’s
support of the alternative corridor and the unfortunate response that there is
not much that he can do about the decision. The Senator’s lackluster response
has many, including myself questioning how a Senator in Durbin’s position as a
party leader and holding a close relationship with the President can have so
little influence.

Springfield is not the only
community or organization opposed to the rushed decisions concerning high-speed
rail services. Smaller communities throughout the nation will face similar
problems with the rail system. Agricultural leaders in Illinois and surrounding
areas have long opposed high-speed rail systems that will eliminate hundreds of
crossing throughout Illinois and cause farmers living along the proposed
systems to sometimes have to travel 20 or 30 miles in a single direction to
access fields.

The installation of high-speed
rail is intended to ease interstate congestion and enhance economic
opportunities in the communities receiving service. However, a rush to
implementation by the Federal Government and a rush to grab money by the states
is creating an environment in which the impact on communities is no longer a
consideration. As a result, cities such as the city where President Obama first
promised change are now facing a negative economic and social impact from the
very policies that promised hope and change. Springfield has become a shining
example of the old adage ‘haste makes waste’ as it is likely to fall victim to
a multi-billion dollar rail system designed with no consideration for the
communities it will travel through.

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