Public Hears Details on Metra’s Proposed Southeast Service Line - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Public Hears Details on Metra’s Proposed Southeast Service Line

Residents and employers joined community leaders and elected officials to hear details on the steps needed to move forward one of the region's priority transit projects.

The long process to make the proposed Southeast Service Line a reality is well underway. Residents, commuters, and employers joined community leaders and elected officials June 10 to hear details about how local communities and residents would benefit from this public investment. They also learned the steps necessary to move forward this New Start transit project and how to keep it a priority for transportation officials and policymakers.

Step one has been initiated, with a planning process that examines the need for the new transit line that would directly service nine south suburban municipalities and dozens of neighboring communities in Illinois and Indiana. At the June 10 meeting, officials presented the first information session in Glenwood, Ill., to a full house, sharing details about the South Suburban Commuter Rail Corridor’s land use and local financing study. This study pulls together municipal leaders, transportation agencies and a team of consultants to establish the viability of creating a new commuter rail line from an existing freight line that runs from Balmoral Park in Crete, through Steger, South Holland and other towns to Chicago’s West Loop LaSalle Street station. It also provides for a Technical Advisory Committee whose members – including staff from the Campaign from Sensible Growth, Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission and others – will examine land use plans around proposed station areas and advise on transit-supportive efforts. The study was sponsored by the Village of South Holland with the Calumet Area Corridor Council, coordinated by the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA), and financed by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

At the public meeting, the audience heard not only how the proposed Southeast Service Line would require a significant investment from both the public and private sectors and what it would take to get a green light on funding, but also how transportation investment could serve as an economic engine to the region. Direct and indirect benefits to communities and the region are substantial. Economic boons include the creation of construction-related jobs, projected growth in business and station areas, and annual savings stemming from the reduction of air pollution, energy consumption, and congestion once the new line becomes serviceable. Speaking on behalf of the Southland Legislative Caucus – which represents 18 General Assembly members – Ill. Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete) said, “The SE Service Line is a priority for all of us. There are benefits beyond ridership. The Southland cannot be left behind yet again. … Our caucus members will keep this front and center, and both Congressmen Lipinski and Jackson have assured me that this project is a priority for them, too.” 

Attendees, however, were cautioned that the process for federal approval and funding make take years, and much depends upon the outcome of the federal surface transportation bill, TEA-3, currently being debated in Washington, D.C. For each project proposal, the federal government requires an alternative analysis review. Meanwhile, transit agencies insist there be land use, finance and project management oversight plans, as well as a ridership numbers analysis in order to be competitive for New Start funds. “Federal approval may take seven to eight years, and competition is huge among projects within the ‘T’ bill,” said Phil Pagano, Metra’s executive director. “We’re very excited, and our intent is to move forward as diligently as we can through this long process to ensure success. We’ve heard from Washington that this is an extremely high priority.”

Consultants also shared their findings at the meeting. They offered an overview of the rail corridor’s land use and local financing study and stressed the critical nature of local participation in the planning process. “I want to emphasize ‘local,’” said Gary Mitchell, project manager with Wilbur Smith Associates, at the meeting. “The local piece of this – the station – falls to the community. It’s a local commitment made from local priorities.” To help identify such priorities, a team of experts including members of the Campaign for Sensible Growth, have spent the past several months working with individual municipalities to explore how a new commuter line would change their communities. Questions relating to proposed station areas, transit-oriented development, housing density and retail were addressed, while municipal leaders were charged to ready their constituents for these and other challenges.

But many in attendance pointed out that more than just municipal leaders must engage in these discussions and advocate for the SE Service Line. Local business involvement and projections of how a new transit line will spur growth and development are critical to the ultimate success of this project. “There must be a business element to this process,” said Pagano. “In addition to bringing people to the Central Business District, the FTA (Federal Transit Agency) looks at whether there’s suburb-to-suburb and reverse commute potential and how engaged business groups are.” Ed Paesel, SSMMA’s executive director, added, “We’ve got the support of municipal leaders and business, including the Southland Chamber of Commerce and others. We should plan on hosting a workshop soon to further engage the business community to work together to ensure that the Southeast Service Line is fully funded.”

The long process toward a funding decree by the FTA continues. Meanwhile, communities and experts collaborate to tackle the challenge of how best to use transportation and land development changes to improve the quality of life for residents. Understanding financing options and economic development potential is a start, as is knowing that planning decisions made today will shape communities well into the future.

Also critically important to this process is the need for the local stakeholders to keep this New Start transit project “front and center” for transportation officials and policymakers. By working together, the south suburbs, especially those communities along the proposed SE Service line, are taking more than first steps toward accomplishing their ultimate goal. They are making giant strides. 


Click here to view a map of the Southeast corridor. 


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