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More projects, more funding still on CREATE's slate, UP's Payette says


What would happen to rail and highway traffic in and around the Windy City if the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program wasn’t implemented? A Union Pacific Railroad official provided an answer Nov. 4 during the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s annual freight-rail conference in Madison.

“There would be gridlock by 2017 if we did nothing,” said Mike Payette, assistant vice president of government affairs for Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Good thing, then, that the CREATE partners are doing something, as in pursuing 71 projects designed to alleviate major bottlenecks along the Chicago region’s freight- and passenger-rail corridors. The public/private partnership program includes 46 rail and 25 grade separation projects, including 19 road/rail and six freight-rail/passenger-rail separations, said Payette, who provided an update on the program.

CREATE partners include Amtrak, the Belt Railway Co. of Chicago, BNSF Railway Co., CSX Transportation, CN, Canadian Pacific, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co., Metra, Norfolk Southern Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, and the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Transportation.

To date, 11 CREATE projects are completed, seven are under construction, seven are in final design and 17 are under environmental review. The projects are focused on four major corridors; the program began in 2003 with five corridors, but the partners removed one corridor from the plan last year after CN acquired the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway, creating some bottleneck relief, said Payette.

The entire program initially was estimated to cost $1 billion in 2003, but the cost now is projected at $3 billion, he said. The railroad partners have agreed to provide $230 million and the remainder will have to come from federal, state and local government sources, said Payette. So far, the railroad partners have provided $116 million; the Illinois DOT has given $10 million of a promised $300 million; the Chicago DOT has issued $4.2 million; and federal sources have provided more than $190 million, including a $100 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and $90.6 million provision in SAFETEA-LU.

CREATE partners had sought an $85 million grant through the TIGER II program, but the application was denied by the U.S. DOT, said Payette. There will be a TIGER III program with fewer dollars to allocate than TIGER II’s $600 million, he added.

CREATE also will receive $133 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act high-speed rail (HSR) dollars, which will help fund improvements to the tail end of a planned St. Louis-to-Chicago line. HSR trains are expected to operate at 110 mph, but if the track isn’t upgraded, they’ll have to slow to 20 mph or 30 mph heading into Chicago, said Payette.

“People on the train won’t think they’re riding high-speed rail if the train slows down a lot for the last 30 miles,” he said.

There already have been some traffic benefits generated from the CREATE projects completed so far, such as less congestion and some trains that can operate faster, said Payette. However, there’s still a long way to go.

The partners will continue trying to secure funding, and get projects under way and completed, such as 20 remaining grade separations. In addition, a project needs to advance to enable Metra to relocate originating and terminating trains from Chicago’s Union Station to LaSalle Station to make way for HSR trains at Union Station, said Payette.

Jeff Stagl

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/8/2010