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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 12:08 pm

Rail study seeks public input

Researchers will consider community concerns

Research on rail improvement proposals in Springfield has begun, and the public now has a say in the study’s focus.

Springfield-based Hanson Professional Services Inc. has begun an environmental impact study to weigh options for a rail expansion in Springfield that will carry an increased number of freight and passenger trains through the city. The process is designed to study the construction requirements, costs and socio-economic impacts of various proposals, while incorporating ideas and concerns from the community.

“We have started to establish geometry for railroad tracks, and we’ve started to make projections for how many trains are really going to be in Springfield,” says James Moll, project manager for Hanson.”

At least two proposals will be studied: installing a second track on the Third Street rail corridor or consolidating the Third Street and 19th Street rail lines to 10th Street. Other proposals that may be evaluated include running the lines below or above ground level, moving the rails outside the city and other ideas put forward by the community.

“The default plan is to put another track down Third Street,” Moll says. “If we do nothing, that’s what will happen. And we can’t force the railroads to do anything, so whatever we come up with, they have to be happy with it.”

Advisory groups have been formed representing public officials, the medical industry, business and community interests in Springfield. Included are opponents of both the Third Street and 10th Street options. Vector Communications, a St. Louis public relations firm hired by Hanson, has begun interviewing the advisory groups to identify perceptions of the project and concerns about it.

“We have done 17 or 18 community stakeholder interviews, so we could get a sense of what’s happened in the past, what have been their concerns about decision making,” says Rebeccah Bennett, senior consultant for Vector. “This strategy is designed to keep everybody engaged. I think one of the things we’ve heard over the last couple of weeks is that whether or not people agree with Third Street or 10th Street, what they want is a process that feels fair, transparent and gives them multiple opportunities to weigh in.

Residents not part of an advisory group will have the opportunity to speak at open house informational meetings to be held during the 16-month study period. An open house has already been announced for April 20, and more will be announced later, Bennett says.

The study follows a protracted battle over where to put the proposed high-speed rail line linking Chicago and St. Louis via Springfield. It’s a small part of the proposed federal high-speed rail project linking Chicago and St. Louis via Springfield, but it has raised big concerns among the city, county, business owners and neighborhood organizations in the project’s path. IDOT agreed to fund the $4 million study after the City of Springfield promised a lawsuit if the project went forward on Third Street without further analysis.

During hearings on IDOT’s application for federal stimulus money to fund the rail project, many Springfield residents expressed anger due to perceptions that the process was secretive and rushed.

“It’s important that people know the decisions have not been made,” Moll “We want to find a solution that works for this community. The trains are coming whether we like it or not.”

Laurna Godwin, co-founder of Vector, says she is pleased with the enthusiastic response from the community.

“Participation has been good so far,” Godwin says. “People are thrilled just to have a formal process for being heard.”

For more information, call 877-552-5505, e-mail info@springfieldrailroad.com or visit springfieldrailroad.com after March 1.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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