IL: County Board Backs HSR Stop

July 22--The Madison County Board unanimously agreed to support the choice of the Alton Multimodal Transportation Center as one of two area stops on a high-speed rail line between St. Louis and Chicago.

A second stop is being proposed for St. Louis.

The center is part of the $72 million Robert Wadlow Town Centre, a transit-oriented development funded by private and public sectors intended to create jobs and economic development for Alton and surrounding communities.

That facility would be located off Homer M. Adams Parkway at the site of the old Alton Municipal Golf Course.

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said that limiting the number of stops to two will hold down costs and help reduce travel time between St. Louis and Chicago.

"Adding additional stops along the rail corridor not only defeats the purpose of high-speed rail, it adds significant expense to the project," Dunstan said in a news release. "By just having stations in Alton and St. Louis, you effectively serve the more than 600,000 residents in the metro-east and more than 1.2 million Missouri residents without a replication of services or the significant increase in travel time passengers would experience if another station were added to the line."

By 2017, the high speed rail project is hoping to have 110-mile per hour service for the 250-mile stretch between St. Louis and Chicago.

The project dates at least to 2009 when President Barack Obama set aside $8 billion in stimulus money for it, 17 times more than the federal government had invested in the previous decade.

The Midwest -- and Illinois in particular -- has been well positioned to take advantage of the funding. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is the No. 2 man in the U.S. Senate, and former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who stepped down from the post last summer, is from Illinois as well.

Plans call for the first phase to focus on repairing the existing track from Alton to Joliet.

Passing sidings would be added that would make the trains more reliable and also make safety improvements to the existing track. The second phase would link Joliet to downtown Chicago.

The improvements would increase the speed to 110 mph, which would reduce travel time to 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

I.D.O.T. officials say that if construction stays on schedule, Amtrak trains should be able to reach those speeds between Carlinville and Joliet by the end of 2015.

This year workers are making improvements to rails, siding, crossings and stations.

Advocates have said that some day commuters could make the trip in two hours.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is currently studying alignments from Granite City to St. Louis that will enhance the crossing of the Mississippi River, including the upgrade of the Merchants Bridge in Madison, a critical link for both passenger and freight rail service.

In a news release, Dunstan touted Madison County as one of the Midwest's state of the art intermodal transportation hubs.

"The addition of a high speed rail stop in Alton, combined with the upgrading of the Merchants' Bridge in Madison, will only enhance that reputation and help our efforts to attract more businesses -- and more jobs -- to our area," Dunstan said.

Copyright 2014 - Edwardsville Intelligencer, Ill.

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