With Kansas City 'nipping at Chicago's heels,' CREATE freight improvement must accelerate - Metropolitan Planning Council

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With Kansas City 'nipping at Chicago's heels,' CREATE freight improvement must accelerate

A story by The Washington Post's Midwest Bureau reporter Kari Lydersen is calling attention to the need for additional investment in CREATE, the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program. This public-private partnership between the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, state and city government agencies, Amtrak, and six of the country's largest private railroad companies outlines specific investments needed to improve rail infrastructure and unclog the freight bottleneck in Chicago.

Both MPC President MarySue Barrett and MPC Board member Paul Nowicki, assistant vice president of government and public policy at BNSF Railway, were quoted in the article, which ran this weekend.

The article noted Kansas City, Miss., is "nipping at Chicago's heels" by investing in intermodal capacity and a rail line connecting Kansas City to a seaport in Michoacan, Mexico. Barrett told Lydersen this competition underscores the urgency of funding to complete the 71 projects CREATE has identified as essential to reduce freight congestion in Chicago. "We ought to pay more attention to competitors who are taking advantage of our slow-moving solutions," Barrett said.

The last federal surface transportation bill -- a five-to-six year bill that authorizes investments in roads, bridges, and rail -- provided funding to implement some CREATE projects. Congress is expected to act on the next federal surface transportation bill in 2010-2011, and MPC is urging the federal government to fully fund CREATE and to develop national priorities for investing in freight rail infrastructure.

As the nation's freight rail hub, Chicago should qualify as a priority. Indeed, as The Washington Post article noted, "If Chicago does not clear up its rail congestion, it stands to miss the opportunity for 17,000 new jobs and $2 billion in annual economic production within two decades, according to CREATE." What's more, the next surface transportation bill also must promote overall transportation solutions to reduce congestion on Chicago's roadways: According to MPC's 2008 report Moving at the Speed of Congestion, excess congestion on Chicago's roadways costs the freight industry alone some $1 billion annually.

As the nation and Chicago begin to emerge from the economic downturn, we cannot afford to underinvest in infrastructure that supports this key industry. MPC looks forward to continuing to work in 2010 with national partner Transportation for America and local partners such as Center for Neighborhood Technology and Active Transportation Alliance to shape a new system for investing in a 21st Century transportation network for the U.S. and Chicagoland.

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