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A $132 Million Federal Grant to Address a Notorious Rail Snarl

Crain's Chicago Business

Apparently, the third time is the charm for a key Chicago infrastructure project.

Shrugging off two previous turn-downs, the 75th Street Corridor improvement project has been awarded a $132 million federal grant, clearing the way for the first, $474 million phase of what eventually will be a $1 billion project. It's intended to unsnarl a notorious bottleneck that affects not only Chicago streets and trains, but freight rail traffic nationally.

The money will come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Fast Lane" discretionary fund. While the biggest impact will be in the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and West Chatham neighborhoods on the South Side, the project is considered a linchpin of the wider Create freight-rail decongestion program.

The federal money—a bit short of the $160 million local officials wanted—will be matched by $111 million from IDOT, $116 million from railroads, $78 million from Cook County, $23 million from Metra and $5 million from Amtrak, Gov. Bruce Rauner's office said in a statement.

Rauner called the award "a tremendous achievement by all of the partners involved," and no one was disputing that.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, hailed the approval as good for the local and national economies. U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., in a phone interview said that despite fears by some officials here, "I'm glad to see the Trump administration based this decision on what was deserved."

The money will pay to build a large CSX flyover bridge to eliminate intersections with other tracks; a 71st Street underpass just east of Western Avenue that officials say will erase 10,000 hours of motorist delay annually; and new tracks and crossovers on the Belt Railway where trains now travel as slow as 10 mph.

Preliminary construction work is scheduled to begin this fall.

The slightly reduced federal contribution will be made up by increased spending by IDOT, the railroads and other partners, according to IDOT.

An earlier funding request had been rejected by the Obama administration, according to Lipinski, because local contributors had not been secured. The state then tried again, but the Trump administration decided not to make such grants last year, rolling everything into one, much larger pot this year.

Funding for phase two work still is being sought, but the new grant will pay for some preliminary engineering and design, according to IDOT.