Tuesday, July 1, 2014 || By Michael Romain
BELLWOOD–Governor Pat Quinn, US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Union Pacific Railroad President and COO Lance Fritz, and other state and local officials were in Bellwood on Friday to officially celebrate the addition of pedestrian tunnels in Bellwood and Berkeley, among other improvements to the UP/Metra West Line.
Bellwood Trustee Ronald Nightingale said that before the tunnels were constructed, area commuters had to make an unsafe, inconvenient trip over a bridge if they wanted to get to the westbound side of the tracks.
“People are subject to participate or utilize this more if it is convenient and well-lit,” Nightingale said. “The station is not as isolated as it was before. They’ll feel much safer.”
The construction of the pedestrian tunnels were part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, which “included the construction of a rail overpass, the rehabilitation of two passenger stations […] and signal and track improvements primarily along the UP/Metra West Line,” according to a press release issued by the Illinois Government News Network.
“The project created and supported 1,000 jobs and was funded primarily through a $52 million TIGER grant, a $27 million committment from UP and other freight railroad partners, other federal funding of $3 million, and a $615,000 investment by the state of Illlinois.”
In addition to cutting the ribbon on this project, government and industry officials also announced the final phase of UP/Metra West Line improvements that will be funded by two massive investments from Union Pacific (UP) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
“Each will invest $45 million for the construction of a new third main line track on the UP/Metra’s West Line, from River Forest to Melrose Park and then from West Chicago to Geneva,” according to the release.
“Today we are investing in jobs that will help solidify Illinois’ status as the premier rail center of the nation,” Governor Quinn said. “This final piece of the West Line improvement program will enhance commuter and freight travel on one of our state’s busiest rail lines. Building world-class infrastructure is vital to a healthy economy and today’s investment will help get us there.”
(Sen. Durbin; Gov. Quinn and Rep. Chris Welch; Bellwood Trustee Ronald Nightingale; the new passenger tunnel at Bellwood’s renovated Metra station. Photos by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).
Senator Durbin said that the intransigence of Congressional Republicans, however, could possibly threaten the federal Highway Trust Fund, the main funding stream not only for pending infrastructure projects in the state, but throughout the country as well.
“We are literally days away from the Highway Trust Fund becoming insolvent,” he said, moments after touting Chicago’s centrality within the nation’s complex rail system.
Just days ago, it was reported that Congress took a recess without a deal to replenish the HTF, which is funded by a federal gas tax. It provides the money for maintenance and improvement of the nation’s highway, rail and other surface transportation systems.
According to a June 26, Bloomberg report, the “$50 billion-a-year in federal monies for highway, bridge and mass transit projects expires Sept. 30. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month projected that the part of the trust fund that pays for road and bridge proejcts will have less than $4 billion in cash next month and will be short $400 million sometime in August.”
Senator Durbin said that the insolvency of the Trust Fund would mean “literally hundreds and hundreds of jobs” affected.
Governor Quinn said that Republican brinkmanship at the federal level may imperil the $1.1 billion infrastructure bill that passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly with bipartisan support.
In a statement accompanying the Senate passage, the Governor said that the additoinal funds “combined with the existing Illinois Jobs Now! and Move Illinois capital programs, will put thousands of people to work and make this year’s transportation construction season the largest in state history.”
On Friday, however, the Governor sounded a cautionary note.
“If the federal government doesn’t provide it’s matching funding–all those workers who want to work during construction season will be put at great peril,” he said.
State Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th), who was also at the Friday ceremony, said that he has faith that the HTF will get funded. He added that the $1.1 billion infrastructure bill includes money for several projects in the 7th District, including the construction of a proposed overpass above the train tracks on 25th Avenue.
“I have all faith that it will get done,” he said. “We’re just waiting on the federal government to do its job. That’s critical.” VFP