News & Reviews News Wire Officials are out in force for CREATE’s latest groundbreaking

Officials are out in force for CREATE’s latest groundbreaking

By David Lassen | October 25, 2022

Forest Hill Flyover, 71st Street grade separation to begin untangling 75th Street Corridor

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Eight people with shovels digging into box of dirt
Digging in to mark the groundbreaking for CREATE’s Forest Hill Flyover are, from left, AAR CEO Ian Jefferies, Metra CEO Jim Derwinski, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, CSX Chief Legal Officer Nathan Goldman, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Trains: David Lassen

CHICAGO — To weigh the significance of Tuesday’s groundbreaking for part of CREATE’s latest infrastructure project, consider the adage that “success has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

Then consider the 13 speakers and many other representatives from federal, state, county, and local government that were part of the ceremony for the Forest Hill Flyover and 71st Street Grade Separation project.

This, clearly, is a big deal — both in impact and by price tag, part of the biggest in the 70-project menu for the Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency program. And because of the impact it will have, everyone wants to celebrate the beginning of work, and be seen as part of the solution to Chicago’s biggest railroading bottleneck.

The project being celebrated on Tuesday will build a bridge to carry a north-south CSX Transportation main line over east-west tracks used by Norfolk Southern, Metra, and the Belt Railway of Chicago, eliminating two sets of at-grade diamonds. It will also build an underpass to carry 71st Street under the CSX mainline, replacing a much-blocked grade crossing.

It is part of the far-larger 75th Street Corridor Project, a massive untangling of lines that also involves Union Pacific and Amtrak. The overall project was eventually broken into pieces as its overall cost reached more than $1.5 billion. The estimated cost of this portion is $380 million; it received a $132 million grant in 2018 and has lined up $260 million in state, local, and private — i.e., railroad — funding.

Several of Tuesday’s speakers highlighted that cooperative effort between levels of government and private entities as the key to starting this project, and to the success of CREATE in general, which so far has completed 33 projects. And some suggested that while its achievements were local, its importance as a model for infrastructure work could, or should, extend well beyond Chicago.

“We need to do this nationally, where we bring public and private sector together,” said U.S. Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “… This is a really critical model we need to use nationally.”

Man speaking at podium
STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman, a former Chicago alderman, speaks at Tuesday’s event. David Lassen

Seconding that notion was Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin J. Oberman.

“I have held CREATE out as an example in recent years, particularly for the gateways in Houston and New Orleans, which very much, although on a smaller scale, have the same congestion we have here,” Oberman said. “And I have recommended to them, and will continue to do a little bit more than recommend … that they implement a CREATE-like project.”

Many of the speakers focused on the impact for the South Chicago neighborhood where the project will take place; the meaning for the local and regional economy —“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, “that is what is happening here today” — and Chicago’s crucial role in the national supply chain.

Some spelled out the specific operational need that led to the project.

“At this chokepoint, 30 Metra and 90 freight trains cross each other’s paths each day, while some of the freight trains also cross 71st Street,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “This creates challenges for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike — and poses threats to the climate, given the collective emissions of trains and vehicles idling at crossings. … The 75th Street [Corridor Improvement Project] will begin alleviating these challenges, so this is a very big deal for this region.”

The operational impacts, though, will extend far beyond one neighborhood, or one junction.

“As has been said many times, this is the biggest chokepoint in the region, possibly the biggest chokepoint in the nation,” said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski. “… What we’ve realized through CREATE is when you fix one part of this network, you actually start seeing benefits anywhere from five to 100 miles out. It’s really impressive.”

Other speakers on a gray, rainy morning included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin; U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Jesus (Chuy) Garcia; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies, and CSX Transportation Chief Legal Officer Nathan Goldman, who joked that he would someday show his new granddaugher photos of the lineup at the event and say, “See, your granddad really did do something.

“Seriously, the ability to pull good business and good government together to work for the benefit of the public is something to really applaud,” Goldman said.

Five locomotives on siding
On display at the groundbreaking are CSX’s Operation Lifesaver locomotive, Metra’s Chicago unit, and diesels from the Belt Railway of Chicago, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific. David Lassen

17 thoughts on “Officials are out in force for CREATE’s latest groundbreaking

  1. There are many more areas in the country where freight railroads and Amtrak or a commuter service could benefit from investment in infrastructure. I think one approach to move things along would be for the government to offer to provide a percentage of funding to help increase capacity along a particular route. In return, the freight railroad has to agree to let Amtrak operate trains along that route.

    1. This is what happened just about everywhere with new/expanded passenger service over the last 30 years. It’s a delicate dance of negotiation between the railroad, government (state or Federal or both), local authorities and operator. Unfortunately, it can take maybe a decade to come to fruition.

  2. What a photo op for the Politicians. Groundbreaking? Hardly. You are digging into a pile of dirt dumped into a sand box constructed just for the occasion. Hey Gov, you extended the plague emergency again for Illinois, so where are everyone’s masks if there is still an emergency?
    Daniel, your solution is to dump the Amtrak trains on the South Shore. No thought given how that would impact their operations at all. Just pass it off to someone else so we at NS don’t have to deal with those pesky trains. It wouldnt be long before everyone started whining about delays due to being stuck behind commuter train making every stop.

    1. Whoa! Not my solution, Amtrak’s. But with proper investment getting around a commuter train is easier than a 10,000 ft freight.

  3. So, Oberman and Durbin didn’t take Amtrak’s “Capitol Limited” to get from Washington to Chicago?

  4. Congratulations to all who contributed to this project. I had spent innumerable hours during my career waiting for traffic to clear at what used to be 75th Street tower so we could cross.

  5. Massive corporate welfare given to an industry that us generating record profits and spends far more on share buybacks than CapEx. And most CapEx is replacement or worn plant, not capacity.

    And the politicians handing over the public money, without getting public ownership of the assets pose for pictures!

    If you wonder what is wrong with America, the picture is an excellent example.

  6. Actually John, the Senate is out of session and it is not clear that Marty is based in D.C.

    Good joke about Lightfoot and Preckwinkle though!

  7. I have so many jokes to make about the picture. It takes 2 people to separate Mayor Lightfoot and County President Preckwinkle. They do not get along.

    Marty Oberman and Dick Durbin took time out on the “Congressional Special” to fly in for the event. FYI: United keeps a 737 on hot standby at Gate 1 opposite TSA to fly into Reagan and back for these kinds of activities.

    All these nice clean engines brought in on a grass filled ROW where you can’t even see the ties let alone the rusty rails. What a interesting sight. you can paint over rust, but you can’t paint over deferred maintenance.

  8. funny i didn’t think this junction was very congested but how come railroad builders back then didn’t think of building a railroad bridge overpasses inforest hill in the first place anyway ?

  9. Let the slings and arrows proceed.

    While I am not a fan of corporate welfare, we do publicly fund the competition and this project will have significant community benefits and potentially add to the competitiveness of freight rail.

    1. Agreed, but CREATE is in its 20th year. It’s been so long that Amtrak is looking to bail on the Grand Crossing connection in favor of connecting/running on the St Charles Air Line. This project will put TWO generations of kids through school.

    2. DANIEL — I understand Amtrak’s frustration with CREATE’s slow pace. A lot has to happen for Amtrak’s eastern trains and Carbondale – New Orleans corridor to run on the St. Charles Airline, down the ICRR diesel route and (for eastern trains) east over the CSS&SB. Right now that series of segments is just a concept. No one knows how much it would cost or how long it would take to implement. With few evident benefits for the freight railroads, they cannot be expected to contribute.

      Amtrak is now 51 years five months and 24 days old. The problems in these Chicago approaches were known from the start.

    3. Dr. Landey, Is NRPC’s infatuation with the SCAL out of frustration or enlightened self-interest? NS’ 47th and 63rd Street intermodal yards have been growing glacially but growing nonetheless. It’s time to tell it like it is: More separation for pax trains is a good thing.
      And this brings up something I was ruminating on: who benefits? It is in NS’ self-interest to limit/eliminate non-NS trains from the Chicago line. Moving the Michigan trains to the South Shore as far as Michigan City that’s eight movements eliminated completely (ten if a connection is built at New Buffalo). The east coast trains as far as South Bend are four more. We cannot ask NS to pay for this but there has to be a way that benefits everyone.

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