National politics won’t affect next phase of rail relocation

By Patrick Yeagle

Federal funding for the next phase of Springfield’s rail relocation is secure, meaning the project likely won’t be affected by the new president-elect and change in Congressional control.

Meanwhile, improvements on the Third Street rail continue, but won’t endanger plans to move that rail traffic to 10th Street.

The rail relocation project calls for adding a second track alongside the existing 10th Street rails and moving the current Third Street rail traffic to that new track. The project also plans for additional underpasses for automobiles and pedestrians beneath the 10th Street corridor.

As the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump nears and Republicans prepare to take full control of Congress, questions remain about how the priorities of the federal government will differ from those of the previous administration. Trump has indicated support for infrastructure spending, but his positions on some issues have changed since his election.

Jim Moll, a project manager for Hanson Professional Services in Springfield, says that won’t likely matter for the next phase of Springfield’s rail relocation project. That’s because funding for the upcoming construction of underpasses at Ash and Laurel streets is already in place. The federal part of that funding is a $14-million federal TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We’re in a very good position as far as funding right now,” Moll said.

The first phase of construction was the Carpenter Street underpass, which opened to traffic in August 2016. That underpass was also funded in part by a TIGER grant.

Moll says underpasses planned for Jefferson and Madison streets are contingent upon state funding for capital projects, but he notes that Springfield currently has funding for about five years’ worth of work on the rail relocation project. The city has purchased about 30 properties along the 10th Street rail corridor so far, including a handful of businesses which were already relocated.

Construction on the Ash Street underpass is scheduled to start in September or October 2017. When that’s complete, construction can begin on the Laurel Street underpass. Moll says the overall project is on schedule, and if funding is secured for the remaining portions, it could be complete in about eight years.

Even as the 10th Street rail is being prepared to accept trains from the Third Street rail, improvements continue on Third Street. Kelsea Gurski, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, says upgraded crossing guards on Third Street will be installed starting in spring 2017.  The upgraded guards are more effective at preventing pedestrians and vehicles from crossing the tracks when a train is approaching.

Gurski says the improvements to Third Street don’t mean that trains on that track are not moving to 10th Street. The funding for the upgraded guards comes from the federal high speed rail project, she says, noting that those funds can only be used on the existing high speed rail corridor.

“Funding for the Third Street upgrade does not have any impact on funding for 10th Street,” she said. u

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