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
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
and a resident of Frankfort. She can be
reached at 815-325-1220 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .