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Eliminating Delays from Clearing Yard Trains at Harlem Avenue

 

By Congressman Dan Lipinksi (IL-3)

 

We have all been there, some more often than others.  Stuck by a train either on 63rd or 65th Street and Harlem Avenue.  Sometimes the train crawls into or out of the rail yard, the rest of the time it just sits there...stopped.  But there may be light at the end of the tunnel now for all of us who have waited.


Back in 2003 the CREATE program was announced with great fanfare at a press conference at 63rd and Harlem.  This program will invest billions to increase the efficiency of our region's passenger and freight rail, and enhance the quality of life for residents.  A significant part of this quality of life enhancement is the construction of two dozen grade separations.  These are underpasses or overpasses that move roads over or under rail lines.  One of these has been slated for 63rd and Harlem.  But while CREATE has moved forward over the years, starting with $100 million that I was able to secure for it, progress on the grade separations has lagged, largely because of the cost.

Over the years I have spoken with many local residents, elected officials, businesses, and employees about this project and what it would mean for the area.  The benefits would include fewer delays getting to work, school, church, or shopping.  Also, less gas wasted waiting for a train to pass, increased safety, economic development, and the potential for more jobs in the area.

But while 63rd Street was the original location for the grade separation, I have come to believe that, if the engineering is feasible, 65th Street would be better.  65th is a four lane road on a largely commercial street and 63rd is a two lane road on a largely residential street.  Hundreds of trucks every day travel to and from businesses in the Clearing Industrial District and a grade separation on 63rd would bring many of those trucks up residential side streets to 63rd.  Just this past week I held a meeting with many businesses in the area to discuss their support for a grade separation at 65th Street and to talk about how we can work together to move this project forward. 

Those are my thoughts on the location, but, as always, I encourage you to reach out to my office to let me know which option you think is the best.

There is new hope for getting this project going. 

This year, both the federal government and the state of Illinois may be passing new bills that will help ease the congestion on our roads.  The most recent federal bill to fund highway and transit projects expires at the end of September.  I am Illinois' most senior member on the House Transportation Committee and we will soon be working on a new bill.  I’ll be pushing to pass a robust, long-term bill that will provide federal support for projects that would alleviate problems like the one many of us face every day at Harlem Avenue.  

In addition, it’s possible that Illinois may pass a new capital bill that would provide funding for all types of construction projects including road construction.  The last capital bill passed in Springfield is winding down and a new one may be done this year.  I have met with Governor Quinn specifically to tell him about the need for the Clearing grade separation, and I have worked with Speaker Madigan and all the local state legislators to build support for this.  

It is important to remember that this will be an expensive project.  The latest estimate is that it will cost about $95 million.  But it is a top priority for me because I know it is a top priority for many of you.  

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