Lipinski Tries to Light Fire Beneath Create Rail Projects
A key member of Congress is leaning on local officials to get more serious about easing rail congestion and, although there are no threats, the folks he's trying to reach would be wise to listen.
In a letter, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, warns that dozens of projects intended to unclog both freight and passenger railroad lines and a fair amount of street traffic, too, "have lagged behind," even though he's helped line up billions of dollars in potential federal funding.
The projects, all part of the Create program championed by his father, ex-Congressman Bill Lipinski, need "contributions and cooperation from your organizations to advance projects that improve the quality of life in the region while bringing the Chicago region freight rail network into the 21st century."
Lipinski is the senior Illinois member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was the only committee member on the conference committee which recently rolled a huge new multi-year surface transportation funding bill, the first in decade. As such, government officials who want funds for things like roads, transit and airports need Lipinski on their side if they're to get as much as possible.
The letter was sent to officials including Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn, city Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Executive Director Joe Szabo, and Edward Hamberger, who heads the Association of American Railroads, an industry trade group.
In a phone call, Lipinski stopped short of specifically putting a jacket on anyone, but made it clear he wants something to change, particularly in construction of more bridges, flyovers and other grade separations needed to speed traffic.
"I'm not happy that more of the grade separations in Create have not been funded," LIpinski declared. "We all need to get on the same page with this." Only seven of the 25 specific projects Create envisioned now are completed or under way, he said, with $1 billion alone needed for work in the 75th Street corridor near Western Avenue.
The railroads will need to provide more private funds to match government money, LIpinski said. And he is "disappointed" that ex-Gov.Pat Quinn failed to make Create more of a priority.
That new federal transportation bill includes $4.5 billion for nationally significant rail projects over five years, but even more money is available under other line items, Lipinski said.
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