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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 07:23 am

IDOT: 10th Street option would delay high-speed rail six years

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The Illinois Department of Transportation will consider putting the proposed high-speed rail system on 10th Street, according to its application for federal stimulus money to build the system.

But IDOT is calling on the City of Springfield and Sangamon County to complete an environmental study on the 10th Street option, and the application indicates such a study would not be completed for several years.

In its application for federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail system through Springfield, IDOT expressed a clear preference for putting the system on the Third Street corridor. The 10th Street option, IDOT said, would set the project back several years

“The earliest construction could commence would be 2015,” the application states. “Staging of the new structures while maintaining (Norfolk Southern Railroad) freight operations would likely require at least two years, plus a third year for final track installation. This would mean that (high-speed rail) passenger operations between Chicago and St. Louis could not commence until 2018.”

 Third Street, by contrast, could be ready as early as 2012, according to the application.

However, IDOT conceded that the Third Street option was controversial, saying the department has called on the City of Springfield and Sangamon County to perform an environmental impact statement (EIS) based on the possibility of putting the system on 10th Street instead.

“Since a number of properties would have to be acquired, and since the Tenth Street Corridor is adjacent to an area with a significant minority population, a full EIS is likely to be required in order to qualify for federal funding,” the application states. “An EIS of this magnitude normally would require at least two years….”

The order to commission the EIS would likely not be issued until 2012, IDOT said. That would push completion of the 10th Street EIS back to 2014.

Prior to the Oct. 2 application deadline, IDOT told the city and county that the department would not conduct an EIS for 10th Street because it would not be completed by the deadline. IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin said prior to the deadline, the department was focused on submitting its best option, which it considered to be Third Street. In negotiations, however, the city and county pressed IDOT for concessions on a 10th Street EIS.

“We’re communicating more now,” Ervin said, adding that IDOT has agreed not to begin construction while still in negotiations with the city and county. “Negotiations are still under way.”

Ernie Slottag, spokesman for the city, said the EIS could be completed in 12–16 months once started, and it would not cause a delay as IDOT suggested.

“There is a lot of other work to be done outside of Springfield,” Slottag said. “The stretch between here and St. Louis hasn’t even been touched. A new EIS wouldn’t delay the project at all.”

If the new EIS concludes that 10th Street is not a good option, Slottag says, “We’d be stuck with Third Street.”

“We don’t think that will be the case,” Slottag continued. “We think it will be a more favorable choice.”

Meanwhile, IDOT’s application is one of 45 applications from 24 states, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. FRA said the applications are requesting more than $50 billion, though only $8 billion has been released so far.

FRA spokesman Warren Flatau said the agency is reviewing applications and has not set a firm date to announce funding recipients, although the awards are expected sometime this winter.

IDOT’s full application can be downloaded from Web at: http://recovery.illinois.gov/documents/Applications/HSR239Chicago_StLouisDT.pdf.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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