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Freight projects across Illinois set to get millions in federal grants

A freight train passes by Moline passenger rail and hotel project on March 27, 2017.

The state is freeing up more than $370 million in federal transportation funds for transportation projectsaround Illinois that the governor said would boost the economy and provide jobs.

One set of projects is part of the Competitive Freight Grant Program that will spend $240 million of federal grants. It was announced during a stop in East St. Louis where Gov. Bruce Rauner said the funds will boost economic activity and bring jobs.

“Illinois is at the heart of freight activity for the entire country,” Rauner said. “These are smart investments that help improve economic competitiveness. At the same time, communities will be less congested, and the movement of goods and services will be safer and more efficient.”

As part of the Competitive Freight Grant program, the Terminal Railroad Association will get federal funds.

TRA President Mike McCarthy said the $1.9 million in federal money will be matched with $500,000 in private investments to make rail traffic more efficient and safer. He said the plan is to take tracks that go through East St. Louis’ busy residential and business district with 12 railroad crossings to a different route with two crossings.

“Trains will move at a higher speed, they’ll be on a shorter route and they’ll provide safety, economic development and reduced bottlenecks,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s a great example of public-private partnerships that’s a winner for all stakeholders.”

Another of the announced projects in the Metro East area is America’s Central Port in East St. Louis. Port officials say it moves more than 3 million tons of commodities annually.

Port Executive Director Dennis Wilmsmeyer said the first project will be $1 million in federal funds for the port’s dock fender system.

“This will help keep the barges from rubbing up against that dock and from deteriorating the steel,” Wilmsmeyer said. “It gets us many more years of use out of that dock.”

The dock also will get resurfaced, allowing for investment in new equipment.

Another project for the same port, Wilmsmeyer said, is $1.5 million in federal funds to keep truck traffic to and from the port out of residential areas.

“The new access road will speed access to and from the warehouses and open the heart of America’s Central Port’s industrial park to many manufacturers,” Wilmsmeyer said.

Altogether, 23 projects will share in the federal funds for the Competitive Freight Grant program. The $240 million in federal money will be matched by $90 million in state and private funds, Rauner said.

Other projects include: $34.3 million to reconstruct and add capacity to the U.S. 30-Interstate 80 interchange near Joliet; $25 million to separate vehicle and rail traffic at Brush College Road/Faries Parkway next to Decatur’s Midwest Inland Port; and $11.3 million to deploy a statewide intelligent truck parking availability information system.

In a separate announcement Tuesday, Rauner’s office heralded a planned $132 million award from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project in Chicago. The federal funds combined with other public money and private investments will help “fix the country’s most complex and complicated segment of railroad,” Rauner’s office said.

The 75th Street corridor project will also take $111 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation, $78 million from Cook County, $23 million from Metra, $9 million from the city of Chicago, $5 million from Amtrak and $116 million from the American Association of Railroads for a total project cost of $474 million.

“It means we can finally eliminate the 75th Street bottleneck and start enjoying the commercial benefits that come with modernization and more efficient movement of goods and people through Chicago and Illinois, the nation’s most important transportation hub,” Rauner said.

The governor’s office said the federal grant for the 75th Street corridor project will be formally announced Friday by U.S. DOT.

This story was originally published on the Illinois News Network.