Durbin Brings Together Federal, State, and Local Stakeholders to Discuss Path Forward for Springfield Rail Consolidation
Meeting progress includes FRA offer to review study as part of an expedited EIS process and to create enhanced local, public participation in review process
[SPRINGFIELD, IL] – In an effort to expedite the process that he hopes will identify the Springfield rail consolidation alternative that best promotes public safety, enhances the quality of life of residents, and boosts the local economy, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) brought together key federal, state, and local stakeholders today.
Durbin opened the meeting by stating his goals for the day: to clear up confusion about cost estimates in Hanson Engineering’s Springfield Rail Corridor Study and discuss next steps; to move the environmental review process forward expeditiously; to give the public better access to local studies and reviews when complete; to outline the financial challenges facing any rail consolidation project in Springfield; and to increase public participation to help the community choose the best rail consolidation alternative available.
The meeting included representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and U.S. Representatives Aaron Schock, Bobby Schilling and John Shimkus, as well as officials from the City of Springfield, Sangamon County, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Hanson Engineering, Amtrak, Illinois & Midland Railroad, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific.
“I live here in Springfield and this project is important to me,” Durbin told meeting participants. “I am willing to roll up my sleeves to move this project forward and I am committed to keeping up the fight, but I want to be clear that, at a time when we’re wrestling with how to reduce the nation’s deficit responsibly, there are serious hurdles to finding federal funding for any transportation project. I am one of five representatives the City of Springfield has in Washington and the reality of today’s Congress means every one of us will need to carry part of the load in order to bring federal funding back to Springfield for this project. If we’re going to get this project off the ground we need to understand the challenges we face and we need to start working together toward a solution.”
In discussing the state of affairs in Washington, Durbin noted that on Thursday, U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica released details of a transportation bill that would cut transportation spending by 30 percent and completely eliminate the Rail Relocation program at FRA, which is the only competitive grant program FRA has to help communities with freight consolidation projects. As demonstrated this year, during the vote on H.R. 1 and in ongoing debt ceiling negotiations, House Republicans have been unwilling to protect transportation projects from large spending cuts. In addition, a Congressional ban on earmarks has severely limited lawmakers’ ability to set aside funding for specific projects such as this one.
In order for any of the Springfield rail consolidation alternatives to be eligible for federal funding, specific guidelines set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) must be followed. The federally-mandated process is required to be led by the state and federal government, with support of local partners. Two critical steps include the full assessment of all possible alternatives and a period for public review and comment. Both IDOT and FRA have indicated that the process could be jeopardized if specific alternatives are selected prior to the assessment and public comment steps being completed. Without adhering to the federally-mandated process, Springfield could be ineligible for any federal funding, and the City, the State, and the FRA could be opened up to lawsuits.
During the meeting, FRA advised the agency will move forward with the next major step in the NEPA process by publishing a document that will outline the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the rail consolidation project. FRA indicated that, as part of that process, they will also consider and review the completed study conducted by Hanson Engineering, but first, the study could be made available to the public by the local partners. FRA also proposed the creation of an enhanced public input process for the EIS to ensure the public is engaged and part of moving the environmental review process forward. The EIS will examine all reasonable alternatives for the rail consolidation project, including alternatives in addition to those considered by the Hansen study.
"The Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by IDOT and the City of Springfield calls for a draft EIS to be completed by April 2012. IDOT and FRA have told me we are on schedule to meet that target date, and the advisory committee we discussed today will help them meet that goal," Durbin said.
Meeting participants also discussed the source of the expected increase in rail traffic through Springfield. As a result of economic development throughout the Midwest and Illinois – including a new intermodal facility in Joliet –the number of freight trains operated by Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National through Springfield will increase in coming years. This increase in freight traffic will occur regardless of any improvements to passenger rail and with or without the approval of the federal government, the State of Illinois, the City of Springfield or Sangamon County.
“The railroads don’t need approval from me or anyone else to increase freight traffic through Springfield. I’m all in when it comes to this town, and I’ll do everything I can for it. But I have to deal with realities. We made a lot of progress made today, but there is still more work to be done. Moving forward, I hope we are able to honestly review the various options and to choose the alternative that best serves this community. In order for this important project to become a reality, we must work together,” Durbin said.
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