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Illinois officials hope high-speed rail grant is just first installment

(The following story by Deana Poole appeared on the State Journal-Register website on January 28, 2010.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Officials in Springfield scrambled Thursday to figure out what the $1 billion-plus Illinois will receive for high-speed rail will mean to the capital city.

President Obama formally announced the grant Thursday.

“We are hoping this is just a first installment, that there will be additional funds down the line so we can indeed proceed to study 10th Street and hopefully move the high-speed rail line to the 10th Street corridor,” said Ernie Slottag, spokesman for Mayor Tim Davlin.

Illinois’ grant -- $1.1 billion to upgrade the Union Pacific Railroad line from Chicago to St. Louis -- is enough to improve train speeds, safety, sidings, stations, signals and crossings on existing track, but not enough to build a second, parallel rail line on the Union Pacific route that runs through Springfield along Third Street. A second track would cost about $3.2 billion.

Springfield officials say increasing train traffic along Third Street would cut the city in half.

“The whole city would look like crap,” Davlin said last fall.

Instead, local officials want to consolidate rail traffic through Springfield, both freight and passenger, on the 10th Street tracks.

On Thursday, Slottag said it will be difficult to evaluate the rail plans “until we really see the details of how this money will be spent.”

“We know what was in the plan that was submitted, but we don’t know what parts of the plan they will use this $1.1 billion to pay for,” he said.

Slottag said the city will discuss the next steps with representatives of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the UP.

In a statement, IDOT Secretary Gary Hannig vowed to continue working with Springfield and Sangamon County officials.

“As we analyze the impact this federal funding will have on the city of Springfield, we will continue to work in good faith with city and county officials to do what is best for the community,” he said.

Hannig said the federal money will help Springfield and the state by creating jobs, increasing economic activity, and boosting tourism. Travel time between Chicago and St. Louis will be cut by by more than an hour, he said.

Victoria Clemons, executive director of Downtown Springfield Inc., said Thursday it’s too early to say whether the money translates into good news for Springfield.

That will be determined only when an environmental impact study is completed for 10th Street, she said, and a final decision is made whether high-speed trains will run down Third Street or 10th Street.

“Until we know that, you can’t really say whether this is a good or bad thing,” she said.

However, she said she, too, thinks the federal money is a down payment.

“If we’re going to do this safely and responsibility, we’re going to need two tracks,” she said. “Obviously, they would need more money to do what we would hope to do, which is the 10th Street corridor.”

Friday, January 29, 2010

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