By Rachel Wells
Illinois politicians will travel tomorrow by plane to Amtrak stations in Chicago, Alton and Bloomington to unveil a $1.2 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award for Illinois high-speed rail improvements.
The funds -- part of a 31-state, $8 billion program -- will go toward rail improvements on the existing Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The improvements will allow trains to travel up to 110 miles per hour and will reduce travel time between the two cities to four hours, a one-hour decrease. The award will also help pay for an environmental impact study regarding the possible construction of a second track along the route and for the streamlining of train traffic near Chicago.
"The federal funding creates benefits for Springfield and the state of Illinois by creating thousands of jobs, increasing economic activity, boosting tourism and reducing travel time between Chicago and St. Louis by over an hour," Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said in a news release.
Illinois requested $4.5 billion for rail improvements, more than half of the $8 billion appropriated for improvements throughout the country. President Barack Obama has proposed spending an additional $1 billion on high-speed rail for each of the next five years. The proposal requires congressional approval.
Here's how Illinois' $1.2 billion award breaks down:
• $1.1 billion for track construction and signal, station and rolling stock improvements. The work will allow for three to five daily round trips between Alton and Dwight to travel at up to 110 miles per hour.
• $1.25 million for a supplemental environmental impact statement concerning construction of a second track between Chicago and St. Louis capable of carrying trains traveling at up to 110 miles per hour.
• $133 million for construction of a multi-layered train intersection at Englewood. The project would eliminate delays by carrying commuter lines over tracks that now carry intercity passenger services and freight services.
Among the officials appearing on the tour will be Gov. Pat Quinn, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Although the route slated for improvement runs through Springfield, Durbin's hometown, officials will not be stopping in the capital city.
High-speed rail has been a topic of controversy in Springfield, where local leaders once threatened legal action if a second track was built on Third Street, where originally planned, but later agreed to an environmental impact study of an alternative track route. At one point the Illinois legislature got involved when House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, filed a bill that would have denied state funds for a second track along the Third Street route.
Durbin spokeswoman Christina Mulka said Springfield likely just didn't fit into the officials' schedules. "I wouldn't read anything into that," she said. "We're not trying to avoid the area; it's Sen. Durbin's hometown.
"He wants to see high-speed rail in Springfield, and he wants to see it done in a responsible way. ... He'll probably be in Springfield soon enough to talk about high-speed rail and a whole number of other issues."
Springfield city spokesman Ernie Slottag said he didn't connect the exclusion of Springfield to the controversy, nor did he expect a public protest had officials planned a stop in the city. He said the city is waiting to learn more specific details of the award.
Other Illinois towns have also expressed concern about how high-speed rail could change their communities. For more information about high-speed rail, see the November edition of Illinois Issues.