High-speed rail: On track to revitalize communities?
The Metropolitan Planning Council has been an advocate for increased investments in the Chicago region to improve the passenger and freight rail system we have—and ensure we remain competitive for the future with a 21st century transportation network. More than that, we understand how fixed transportation assets—planner-speak for train stations—can act as hubs for community development.
Just look at the many communities that have successful housing, retail and employment centers near their commuter stations. That’s one reason why we are celebrating the good news of $1.23B committed from Washington, D.C. to Illinois for the Chicago Hub High-Speed Rail Corridor. While the primary purpose designated for the project is to improve existing passenger and freight train operations for the corridor between Chicago and St. Louis (with the goal to operate passenger trains at 110 MPH), MPC sees this investment opportunity as a way to spur new economic development and revitalization strategies around proposed stations, reaping community dividends as well.
Chicago, Joliet, Springfield and Bloomington-Normal, no doubt, hope that proves true. These cities are along the St. Louis to Chicago high-speed rail corridor with designated stops, and have been planning to capitalize—and leverage—resources pledged to their station areas, fueling new private investment and fast tracking sustainable redevelopment plans. Almost a decade ago, MPC worked with the city of Joliet on strategies for downtown revitalization; the city’s Metra/Amtrak/ bus hub was the cornerstone to success. Building upon that, now their vision includes the Regional Multi-Modal Transportation Center as the” key component and catalyst” for the redevelopment of Downtown Joliet, designed to serve as anchor for a mixed-use, transit-oriented development project with retail, residential, restaurant, commercial, and office space. And Chicago’s own plans for an intermodal hub at Union Station would leverage local, state and federal resources to create a new retail and job center in an underutilized facility. These projects, and others anticipated in Springfield and Bloomington-Normal, will help trigger development, revitalize business, diversify the local tax base and create jobs, helping our economic recovery.
We know the regional benefits of high-speed rail investments in metropolitan Chicago: the billion+ allocation to Illinois will go toward new tracks, at-grade improvements, fly-over bridges, and upgraded trains and stations. The project should reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and vehicle miles traveled—and bring hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs to the region. But along with freight and intercity/interstate rail service improvements and faster travel times should be local community benefits that spur our future prosperity.