SouthEast Service Line: can residents and business leaders get it? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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SouthEast Service Line: can residents and business leaders get it?

At the Metra SouthEast Service Community Summit earlier this month, local leaders from the South Suburbs and Will County focused on the positive impacts new commuter rail lines have on surrounding communities.

Everyone, from business leaders to elected officials, agreed that getting workers and visitors downtown, and reverse commuters to Southland activity centers is the key to attracting business and residential development. They spoke of buying-in to "TOD," transit-oriented development, as the new design tool for building attractive communities. They said they "get it"—and they should.

Residents and business leaders also should be "getting it." Transit access can eliminate the need for yet another family car: not only does it increase transportation options to work, but also to neighboring and far-off regional destinations. New opportunities for shops, homes, entertainment venues, and educational and cultural amenities are surely a plus, assuring the long-term economic vitality of nearby neighborhoods.

Many do understand. Nationwide, the appetite for the tangible benefits of TOD has spurred a movement with its own national conference on how to build livable communities with transit. That conference, Rail~Volution 2006, comes to Chicago next week (Nov. 5 to 8 at the Marriott Magnificent Mile Hotel).

The timing for the conference couldn't be better: metropolitan Chicago is in the midst of a transportation planning process that, if we're diligent, will bring home millions in federal transit dollars to upgrade and expand our transportation system, helping remedy some of the traffic congestion throughout Chicagoland. Illinois' ask is big, including requests for two major Metra projects: the STAR (Suburban Transit Access Route) Line running from Schaumburg to Joliet, and the SouthEast Service Line (SES Line) connecting the southeast suburbs and eastern Will County to the West Loop.

The proposed SES Line, on an existing freight right-of-way, will provide new service and make stops at 11 stations from Chicago (LaSalle Street) to Balmoral Park in Crete. The eight south suburban communities that would get new stations—Chicago Heights, Crete, Dolton, Glenwood, South Chicago Heights, South Holland, Steger and Thornton—are banking on federal dollars to jump-start private investments, bringing jobs and other TOD benefits to the region.

But the SES must compete against others across the nation for federal funding. If we neglect to galvanize support from residents and the business community, fail to meet criteria, or fall short on local or federal approvals, the project will end up on the cutting room floor—maybe as soon as spring 2007—resulting in more cars on the roads, more traffic congestion, and a loss of economic anchors for new development.

In fact, there's no guarantee that either of Illinois' New Starts projects will secure federal funding, even if it seems that the SES – the Southland's fair share – has been in the queue for a long time. Each community along the planned route, along with the state, must assume some of the total project costs, putting up dollars raised locally or provided by Springfield—worrisome news, given that Illinois has not had a capital infrastructure investment program since Illinois FIRST expired in mid-2004.

We're going to need absolute consensus and resolve from the public and business community to make sure this project makes it to the winners circle. Residents, business leaders and employers: respond to surveys that quantify local demand. Join the SouthEast Metra Business Alliance to show broad business and community support for this invaluable investment in the region's future.

If you're still not sure what's at stake, learn more about how transit benefits communities by attending Rail~Volution 2006 next week. Hear from communities across northeastern Illinois—like Joliet, New Lenox and Tinley Park—that are capitalizing on the tremendous opportunities that TOD presents. See how transit is shaping our region by touring local transit-oriented developments that work.

Jump on board! Because if you don't, without a strong showing of support from the local constituency, we're going to learn that those federal funds will be pledged elsewhere, to some other more deserving region that has their act together. And the SES Line? Well, we'll learn we just don't "get it."

Kristi DeLaurentiis is local government and community relations manager for the Metropolitan Planning Council and a resident of Frankfort. She can be reached at 815-325-1220 or at kdelaurentiis@metroplanning.org .

 

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