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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 12:02 pm

Tracks on 10th

Will consolidating three rail lines divide the city or bring it together?


Redevelopment opportunities for consolidation on 10th Street include new affordable housing and parks.

The bright red bricks of the boxy building at 427 S. 12th St. in Springfield stand out boldly against the drab colors of winter. A remnant of Springfield’s past, the building incorporates windows, doors and other materials from the house that eventually became the Dana-Thomas House. It had a 100-year-old time capsule in its cornerstone, opened in 2006, containing a Bible, a penny and a note that is so fragile from age that it can’t be opened. Beginning in 1896 and rebuilt in 1904, the Lincoln Colored Home served Springfield as the nation’s first orphanage for African American children. But it now sits empty in disrepair, a target for vandals and an enormous challenge for the Springfield family seeking to restore it.

“The Lincoln Colored Home really represents a community effort, when people came together for a cause,” says Lee Hubbard of Springfield, whose family arrived in Springfield in a wagon train around the same time as Abraham Lincoln and was even once represented by Lincoln in a legal matter. Lee Hubbard’s father, Lyman Hubbard, owns the Lincoln Colored Home and has a vision to turn the historic structure into a museum and an anchor for the city’s east side. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, sits two blocks from a possible railroad expansion that could put all of Springfield’s rail traffic down the 10th Street rail corridor. Lee Hubbard says that would be a blessing rather than a curse.

“I don’t see the 10th Street corridor as being a dividing wall,” he says. “That wall has already existed. It can’t make things worse; our home values haven’t changed in 50 or 60 years. If anything, I think this can be a positive adjunct to all that.”

Hubbard, a resident of the east side, hopes that consolidation of the city’s three railways along 10th Street will bring redevelopment money to the east side, which could help his family restore the Lincoln Colored Home.  

“You’re not going to grow unless you’re bringing people in and out,” he says.

Proposed plans for a museum in the historic Lincoln Colored Home.

The consolidation on 10th Street is one of three main alternatives proposed by the Springfield Rail Corridor Study, which is examining how Springfield can accommodate a projected doubling in rail activity through the city by 2020. Alternatives include double-tracking the Third Street rail corridor, moving Third Street rails to 10th Street (partial consolidation), and combining Third Street and 19th Street tracks on 10th Street (full consolidation) for a total of five tracks. The extensive study, led by Hanson Professional Services, Inc., of Springfield, created preliminary analyses of each alternative’s costs, benefits and impacts and has released that information seeking public comment. While the idea of combining the city’s three rail lines into one has been tossed around for decades, the prospect of an increase in rail freight traffic and a high-speed rail project connecting Chicago and St. Louis through Springfield could transform consolidation from a dream to a reality.

The options
The study group is considering two “full consolidation” options, both of which call for widening the 10th Street rail corridor to five tracks and doubling the present 70-foot right-of-way to 140 feet. The first full consolidation option, known as Alternative 3A, would include new road underpasses at Ash, Madison, Jefferson and Carpenter streets, as well as North Grand Avenue. This option also calls for closing existing 10th Street rail crossings at Miller, Jackson, Reynolds and Enterprise streets.

Alternative 3B is a more intensive and expensive version of 3A, including more underpasses and closed crossings. This alternative would include the same new underpasses as Alternative 3A and add additional underpasses at Laurel, Monroe, Adams and Washington streets. In addition to the closed rail crossings identified in Alternative 3A, the second consolidation option would also close crossings at Capitol Avenue and Enos Street. Both alternatives would include “quiet zones” in which no train horns would be blown from Stanford Avenue in the south to Sangamon Avenue in the north.

Full consolidation of Springfield’s railways onto one corridor offers several benefits for the city, according to an Illinois Times analysis of rail study data released in November.

Traffic delays due to trains, which the study group has identified as one of the most common complaints among Springfield residents, would be vastly reduced, the study predicts. Measured in vehicle-minutes – the total number of minutes all vehicles in Springfield are delayed collectively each day – traffic delays are projected to fall from the current level of 23,700 vehicle-minutes to 1,400 under Alternative 3A. By comparison, double-tracking the Third Street corridor and adding no new grade separations – the option with the least expensive initial cost – is projected to increase traffic delays to 36,000 vehicle-minutes.

The Lincoln Colored Home at 427 S. 12th Street is currently vacant, but its owners have plans to restore it.

The consolidation plans include reducing or eliminating train crossings, which would reduce the number of vehicle crashes involving trains. But double-tracking the Third Street corridor is expected to increase train-car crashes. Both full and partial consolidation would include quiet zones that would eliminate train horn blowing, another common complaint voiced to the study group.

Consolidation on 10th Street would also affect fewer historic structures than double-tracking Third Street. One historic structure, the Dana-Thomas House, sits just a few yards off the present Third Street tracks. At a recent press conference held by the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce to promote rail consolidation, Regina Albanese, executive director of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, said the structure would be negatively impacted by the increase in vibration and noise if the Third Street tracks are expanded.

The same goes for the city’s two major hospitals, according to representatives from St. John’s Hospital, Memorial Hospital and the Mid-Illinois Medical District. Delicate equipment used in the hospitals could be damaged or miscalibrated by train vibrations, they say, and traffic delays due to trains could impede access to the hospitals by emergency vehicles. Downtown businesses such as Isringhausen Imports car dealership say consolidation on 10th Street is preferable to double-tracking Third Street because the latter option would partly surround their businesses with overpass ramps, greatly reducing customer access.

Springfield Ward 2 Alderman Gail Simpson says she favors consolidating all rail traffic on 10th Street, pointing to redevelopment possibilities that could accompany an expansion of that corridor and the opportunity to eliminate the 19th Street rail corridor. The study group has projected a swath of new affordable housing, walkways and businesses along an expanded 10th Street corridor. A proposed transportation hub combining a rail station with buses and taxis has been on the drawing board for years.

“It is imperative that a multi-modal transport center be put on 10th Street to spur economic and business development,” Simpson says. “It will bring jobs and, I believe, a renewal to east Springfield.”

Proposed underpass enhancements if the 10th Street corridor is expanded.

Despite the benefits offered by consolidating the city’s rail corridors, the idea also presents important challenges. Because consolidation would double the width of the 10th Street rail corridor, that option would result in the highest number of residential and commercial displacements of any option. The rail study group projects that full consolidation would require demolishing between 200 and 250 residential buildings and moving those residents elsewhere. That’s in addition to more than 50 projected commercial displacements under the full consolidation proposals.

The expanded right-of-way would also run into the historic Lincoln Depot, the building at which Abraham Lincoln gave his farewell address in 1861 when leaving Springfield to assume the presidency. However, the Tenth Street corridor touches fewer historic structures than the Third Street corridor, the study group notes, adding that there is no talk of demolishing any historic structures. Additionally, the consolidation proposals call for rerouting part of the 10th Street tracks through what is currently the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on North Grand Avenue, meaning that building would likely be demolished.

The initial cost of full consolidation is significantly higher than most other proposals, with an estimated cost of $427 million for Alternative 3A and $516 million for Alternative 3B. By comparison, the cheapest option – double-tracking Third Street with no new grade separations – would cost an estimated $99 million. However, taking into account long-term savings due to reduced delays, crashes, maintenance, fuel and emissions over the 75-year lifespan of the project, the $158-$185 million net cost of full consolidation would actually be lower than the $205-$260 million net cost of double-tracking Third Street.  Partial consolidation, which would require moving Third Street rails to 10th Street and leaving 19th Street in place, would have the lowest net cost, at around $85 million.

Perhaps the most important challenge to consolidation on Tenth Street is the concerns of east side residents that consolidation would isolate them from the rest of the city. Teresa Haley, president-elect of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Springfield, says more trains on 10th Street would devalue east side properties, cut off residents from emergency services and cause unnecessary delays in transportation. She also cites concerns about traffic crashes, derailment dangers, train noise and vibration damage to east side homes. Haley says NAACP has done studies of other areas with major rail projects and has seen low-income areas receiving lower-quality sound barriers and safety features. Even with assurances of full grade-separation at all train crossings between North Grand Avenue and Stanford Avenue under one of the consolidation options, Haley is unconvinced.

“That doesn’t alleviate our concerns that disparity will still be there,” she says. “There will still be a great division.”

Proposed 1600-foot overpasses in downtown Springfield if the Third Street rail corridor is expanded.

Prospects for redevelopment, Haley says, are likely to be forgotten, as past projects on the east side – including a tax increment finance district and job development programs – have failed to produce promised developments. “You don’t see any minorities, contractors or subcontractors, working on any repairs around here,” she says, with noticeable frustration in her voice. “When the city was doing last-minute repairs to make sure the streets were handicap-accessible, there were no blacks out there doing repairs. Hell, I could hold a sign. What are the true qualifications to get these people employed?”

Leroy Jordan, president of the Randall Court Neighborhood Association on Springfield’s east side, says several 10th Street redevelopment concepts put forth by the rail study group are “designed to show the best picture” of what could happen there, but are “kind of misleading” because there is no money allocated for such projects.

Jordan is also chair of the Rail Issue Task Force through the Springfield-based Faith Coalition for the Common Good, which is focused on reaching an agreement with the city and state to ensure a proportionate amount of jobs created by the rail project go to minorities and women.

“In places where they have a crossing already, the company doing the asphalt work is from St. Louis,” Jordan says, referring to railroad repairs underway now. “We have at least five or six asphalt companies here in Springfield. If the federal government is expecting us to have 30 percent minorities and 20 percent women working on the expansion, and our companies are not there yet, we are already losing out. Maybe it’s our fault for not coming together to deal with being behind. We can’t blame them for what we don’t do.

“I have a passion about this,” he continues. “I want this to be different than the previous railroad relocation initiatives, but thus far, it seems to be the same old song. Let us continue to pray for hope – hope that we can do better, because we really do deserve better.”

The railroad crossing at 10th and Jackson streets is among four to six intersections that would be closed under consolidation proposals.

Ald. Simpson, who is in favor of consolidation on 10th Street, says she will work to assuage concerns about that option.

“I understand those concerns,” she says, adding that she will “stay vigilant” in talking to development authorities about what the east side wants.

“The only reason I am promoting this as a viable option is that it will allow for economic and business development along 11th Street, which encompasses the 10th Street rail,” she says. “I’m going to continue to promote that, because I think it’s important that entities in this city understand that we can’t keep developing west. You’ve got to, at some point, develop in the center of the city.”

Lee Hubbard, speaking in front of the Lincoln Colored Home he is helping to restore, says consolidation would be beneficial for the east side.

“We’re losing our identity and our structures,” Hubbard says. “Nothing has really changed here in a number of years, but we have hope. There’s a lot of good people in Springfield, willing people. We’ve been here a long time, and we’re going to be here a long time. We don’t want to move out to the west side. There’s still a lot that can be done here.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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