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St. Louis-Chicago corridor snags $186 million in high-speed rail funds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Pouncing on another pot of rejected high-speed rail money, Illinois has snagged an additional $186 million to help pay for track and other improvements on the planned St. Louis to Chicago fast-train corridor.

The funds are part of the $2 billion in high-speed rail funds rejected by the governor of Florida. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation had "reprogrammed" about $400 million of that money, including the grant to Illinois.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said the new round of funding would be used primarily to pay for track and related improvements on the segment of the 284-mile corridor between Dwight and Joliet, Ill.

"Illinois will be able to use this funding to upgrade an important segment of the Chicago to St. Louis corridor," said Durbin. "Improvements to this route will improve on-time performance, increase travel speeds and create jobs that our state badly needs."

Kirk said the high-speed rail project eventually will create about 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, decrease delays and improve rail performance. "High speed rail projects like this one will ensure that Illinois remains at the center of the nation's infrastructure network, attracting more jobs and making us more economically competitive," he said.

In March, Illinois officials had announced a $685 million agreement to start the next phase of construction on the corridor.

Along with $42 million pledged by Illinois in state capital funding, that money allowed work to start on April 5 on the second leg of the project, which will involve construction of new rail track using concrete ties between Alton and the Mississippi River, as well as new track and a modernized signal system between Lincoln and Dwight.

This spring's construction follows the initial phase of the line, which had started in September, to upgrade tracks on a 90-mile stretch between Alton and Lincoln.

Illinois' application for rejected Florida funding included two other high speed rail projects that are still eligible for funding, including a request for $1 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work on a new station in East St. Louis.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement Tuesday that "we are committed to quickly turning federal investment in rail into jobs and economic development across the state. This latest award is another example of our ongoing efforts to lead the nation in development of high-speed rail."

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.