Southwest News Herald
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) says he has secured $15 million in state funding for grade separation along rail lines at 65th Street and Harlem Avenue, a project aimed at alleviating traffic congestion affecting the Southwest Side, Bedford Park and Summit.
“The traffic tie-ups caused by such heavy rail use along these tracks has put a major strain on local commuters, businesses and emergency responders, so this project has been needed for a long time,” Madigan said.
“I have always supported infrastructure improvement projects to help revitalize our economy, put people back to work and strengthen our overall quality of life. Projects like this have a direct, positive impact on local residents and help our local businesses thrive,” his statement continued.
The funding provides for engineering work and construction costs for rail grade separation at 65th Street and Harlem Avenue. Currently, commuters and local residents crossing the tracks must deal with two different trains that cross the tracks every hour.
Another set of tracks in use means residents can run into as many as three trains at the same time, tying up traffic for long periods.
Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, said the funding approved by the Legislature is part of the ongoing capital improvement program.
When exactly the work will begin is unclear, but Brown said it would have to go through the standard bidding process to get a contractor.
“For decades, congestion along this rail corridor has been a nightmare for local residents, so this project has been one of my biggest priorities,” Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said.
The congressman said Madigan’s “efforts in securing this funding are a big win for the Southwest Side residents and businesses that travel several times a day across the busy crossing.”
“I?compliment the speaker on this initial step. This is one issue we hear a lot about (from constituents),” said Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) on Monday.
Quinn said the 65th and Harlem location is in the adjacent 23rd Ward, but railroad issues affect the whole area.
He said one train can tie up traffic at Harlem at 63rd and 65th Street, as well as crossings at Narragansett and Austin close to 59th Street.
“I?think this is a step in the right direction,”?said Quinn, who, like Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), fields questions about the need to solve the railroad congestion at nearly every community meeting.
Lipinski said eliminating train blockage of 65th Street would benefit the Southwest Side, Bedford Park and Summit.
According to some estimates, the total cost of building the 65th Street underpass is $95 million, but Lipinski said a new federal road construction bill he is working on, and the state capital construction bill, offer new opportunities to move the project forward.
Lipinski noted that the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program was unveiled at a press conference at 63rd and Harlem in 2003.
The ongoing program is aimed at improving the rail system and the quality of life for residents affected by railroads calls for the construction of 24 grade separations (either underpasses or overpasses). While 63rd Street was the original location chosen for the grade separation, it has been agreed that if the engineering is feasible, 65th Street would be a better choice.
The congressman and other officials have pointed out 65th Street is a four-lane road on a largely commercial street and 63rd Street is a two-lane road on a largely residential street.
Hundreds of trucks travel daily to and from businesses in the Clearing Industrial District. A grade separation on 63rd would bring many of them up residential side streets to 63rd, added the congressman.
Lipinski said that while he was able to secure $100 million for the program, “progress on the grade separations has lagged, largely because of the cost.”
The benefits of having an underpass on 65th Street include fewer delays; less gas wasted waiting for a train to pass; increased safety, economic development, and the potential for more jobs.
There is new hope for getting this project going this year,” stated Lipinski. “Both the federal government and the state of Illinois may be passing new bills that will help ease the congestion on our roads. The most recent federal bill to fund highway and transit projects expires at the end of September.”
As Illinois’ most senior member on the House Transportation Committee, Lipinski said he will be “pushing to pass a robust, long-term transportation bill that will provide federal support for projects that would alleviate problems like the one many of us face every day at Harlem Avenue.”