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High-speed rail plan calls for nine overpasses in Springfield, Ill.

(The following story by Deana Poole appeared on the State Journal-Register website on September 3, 2009.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Union Pacific Railroad is suggesting the city of Springfield close five rail crossings and build nine overpasses and one underpass along a 4.4-mile stretch that cuts through the heart of downtown.

During a meeting with The State Journal-Register editorial board Wednesday, Mayor Tim Davlin summed up how the proposal would transform Springfield: “The whole city would look like crap.”

Local officials are battling plans to route high-speed trains and additional freight trains along the Third Street rail corridor. The group has urged that the trains be diverted instead to the 10th Street corridor.

Under the Union Pacific’s proposal to accommodate the additional rail traffic, overpasses would be built over tracks at Fifth Street, Union Street, Carpenter Street, Madison Street, Jefferson Street, Cook Street, Lawrence Avenue, South Grand Avenue and Ash Street, according to a recently released report by the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission. An underpass is suggested at Fourth Street.

City officials estimate each overpass and underpass could cost at least $15 million. Each overpass would require 800 feet of ramp on each side of the rail line center, or 1,600 feet in total length, end-to-end.

Federal stimulus money would help cover most costs, they said.

Access problems

However, the overpasses could block access to dozens of homes and businesses -- and even the historic Dana-Thomas House at Fourth Street and Lawrence Avenue, which no longer would be visible from the south, according to the report. Some properties would lose all access and probably would have to be purchased by the city, according to the report.

Artist renderings showing concrete barriers sitting in front of historic homes, structures and businesses in Springfield are being distributed by the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association.

Railroad spokesman Mark Davis said the proposals were intended to “stimulate discussion with the city regarding any mitigation that would take place on the Third Street corridor.”

Overpasses are suggested at both Jefferson and Madison streets, two streets close enough to each other that the overpasses would create “significant access problems,” according to the report. Those overpasses would close off access to six or seven commercial properties, the report said.

The Isringhausen auto dealership in downtown Springfield could lose access to its showrooms on two blocks, and its street visibility would be lost, according to the report.

Geoff Isringhausen said that would be devastating to his business.

A car dealership is like a billboard — people see the vehicles from the street and come inside, he said.

“To block that visibility would be a real setback,” he said.

‘Quiet zones’

Barriers would regulate auto traffic at six other intersections -- Washington, Adams, Monroe, Scarritt, Cedar and Laurel streets. Those intersections would be designated “quiet zones,” at which trains would be prohibited from sounding their horns.

The railroad also suggests closing crossings at Ridgely Street, Eastman Avenue, Jackson Street, Canedy Street and Allen Street,

Davlin said some types of barriers will be needed no matter whether the extra passenger and freight trains will be on Third Street or 10th Street. But fewer would be needed along 10th Street.

He also said he’d rather see traffic get backed up downtown than put an overpass or underpass near the Dana-Thomas House.

“If it goes on Third Street, we’re choked up there,” he said. “Just avoid Lawrence. Use, hopefully, South Grand or Capitol, because you can’t ruin the Dana-Thomas House by putting an overpass or underpass there.”

Underpasses more costly

Underpasses along Third Street would be even more expensive than overpasses because the city’s main sewer line runs near Third Street and would have to be relocated.

The federal government has approved $8 billion in economic stimulus money to establish high-speed rail service nationwide, including along the St. Louis-Chicago route in Illinois. The Union Pacific line, which shares its track with Amtrak, runs through Springfield along the Third Street corridor.

Davlin and other leaders have emphasized they support high-speed rail in Springfield.

“It’s only this four-mile stretch that we see as a real problem,” he said.

Davlin noted that Bloomington-Normal and Pontiac also have some issues, but “nothing runs through the heart of a community or the heart of the medical district like what we’re seeing here.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

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