Durbin blasts GOP cuts to South Side train bridge project

By:  Maudlyne Ihejirika
Chicago Sun-Times

At a muddy trainyard at 63rd and State streets Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and two Democratic congressmen blasted recent budget slashing by the Republican House majority that would erase funding meant to ease congestion at one of the region’s busiest railway intersections.

The Englewood Flyover project, which has already seen $8 million in federal, state and private monies spent, was a plan to build a rail bridge at the South Side yard where Metra, Amtrak and freight train traffic have long created major gridlock.

The project brings with it some 1,500 jobs.

“Never before in history has Congress stepped in and cancelled a project already awarded,” charged Durbin, flanked by U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush, whose district includes Englewood, and Dan Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation Committee who helped secure $133 million in stimulus monies for the project.

“The battle is on,” said Durbin. “Yes, we need to cut spending. But we shouldn’t abandon our commitments to creating jobs and economic development in the midst of this recession. This was a national competition. We were selected. This project was moving forward. Reneging calls into question all future commitments that Congress makes, and future competitive efforts by the U.S. government to determine where we should spend our money.”

The legislators said cutting the Englewood Flyover — which is among some $6.8 billion in transportation projects promised to states the Republicans want to can — will cost more in the long run.

They pointed out that Chicago, long a national rail hub, accounts for a third of the nation’s rail traffic, seeing some 1,200 trains pass through daily, and freight rail service here is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years.

The Englewood project is a key part of a six-year-old program that has been reducing congestion through track, switch and signal upgrades, and new overpasses and underpasses.

Some 78 Metra trains, 14 Amtrak trains and 46 freight trains daily come through the Englewood intersection, causing major delays for the 40,000 daily riders of Metra’s Rock Island District and Southwest Service lines.

The Republican spending bill, passed by the House, now heads to the Senate, where Durbin vowed it would see a fight.