$133 million in U.S. funding saved for Create's Englewood Flyover rail project

By:  Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business

It looks like funding for a local transportation fix that business groups consider critical for Chicago's economy — the so-called Englewood Flyover — has been saved from the federal budget ax.

But the locals would be well advised to get the money out the door as soon as possible.

The offices of both U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, report that $133 million in federal funds allotted for the Englewood Flyover was not touched in the $38.5-billion budget deal cut between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans even though House Republicans earlier had proposed killing the project.

Details of the deal were released overnight.

The flyover would separate rail lines now used by Metra, freight carriers and Amtrak that cross at street level near 63rd and State streets, on the South Side. The project was awarded the money last year as part of Mr. Obama's economic stimulus plan, but has not yet been spent or committed in the form of signed contracts.

Local leaders like Jim LaBelle of Metropolis Strategies consider it a key element in the Create plan to shore up Chicago's status as a freight rail center, speeding trains that sometimes now have to spend an entire day crossing the metropolitan area.

The same Englewood congestion delays Metra traffic, as well as Amtrak lines headed south, Mr. LaBelle says. "There aren't many projects that hit all three."

The flyover is not totally safe. The budget deal calls for $400 million in unspecified recessions in other rail spending that has been announced by the feds. But insiders say they expect that will come from a $2.4-billion award to Florida that the state has decided not to use.

"We're cautiously optimistic that this (flyover funding) won't ever be a concern again," a spokeswoman for Mr. Durbin said.

Also safe, at least for now, are several other Illinois infrastructure projects that had been in jeopardy under the version of the fiscal 2011 budget passed by the GOP-majority U.S. House.

Untouched in the final detail, according to Mr. Durbin's office, are $230 million for the Chicago-to-Quad-Cities rail line, $3.71 million to replace the Wadsworth bridge on the Chicago/Milwaukee Amtrak line and $2.2 million for the purchase of electric buses for the Chicago Transit Authority.

But fiscal 2011 spending on high-speed rail nationally will be cut from $2.5 billion to $1 billion, under the budget deal.