Illinois Asks Feds for $200 Million for Southwest Side Rail Work
Southwest Side motorists may soon find their commutes a little easier.
In an unannounced but significant step, the Illinois Department of Transportation yesterday applied for $200 million in federal grants to unsnarl traffic at three locations where cars and buses often have to wait for freight trains to rumble through.
There's no guarantee the state actually will get the money for the work, part of the long-pending but only partially funded CREATE freight rail decongestion program. But Congressman Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, says he's "optimistic" the state will get at least one and maybe all three of the projects approved. That's in part because the money would come from a new program he was able to get included in the recently adopted five-year federal surface transportation funding bill.
One of the locations involves more than 20,000 vehicles a day where two Belt Railway tracks cross Archer Avenue near 51st Street.
The second, in the Ashburn neighborhood, also involves Beltway tracks at Columbus and Maplewood avenues, where 32 freight trains a day share an intersection with 11,500 cars, Lipinski said.
The third is the crossing of Union Pacific tracks at 95th Street near Eggleston Avenue, also in Chicago. That area has extensive truck traffic, as well as handling 700 Chicago Transit Authority and Pace buses, and 24,000 cars.
"I'm very happy that IDOT has decided to focus on grade crossings," said Lipinski, noting that all three locations will receive either overpasses or underpasses to separate rail from road traffic. "There's nothing more I hear (about) from my constituents than being stuck waiting for the train. It's the No. 1 complaint."
IDOT, which usually doesn't discuss potential grants until it gets them, had no immediate comment.
About $800 million nationally will be available for such work this year, with slightly bigger amounts in each of the next four years.
Lipinski said Chicago may have an edge because other areas are just learning of the new program. The three projects involved here all are in the engineering phase, and if money arrives, work should be completed "by 2019," he said.
Local officials will have to come up with as much as $125 million in matching funds if they get the grants. There's no indication yet where that money would come from.
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