Press Release - Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Governor Pritzker and CREATE Program Partners Celebrate Groundbreaking for Forest Hill Flyover and 71st Street Grade Separation Projects
New bridge will eliminate the most congested rail chokepoint in the Chicago Area
CHICAGO - Governor JB Pritzker joined Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program partners to break ground on the largest CREATE project, The Forest Hill Flyover (P3), to date at CSX Forest Hill Railroad Yard.
The groundbreaking also kicked off construction of the 71st Street Grade Separation (GS19) project, which will eliminate an existing grade crossing of the CSX railroad with 71st Street, improving safety and convenience for community members including pedestrians, bicyclists, and local drivers. These projects are also the first two components of four major projects that will be implemented as part of the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (75th St. CIP).
"When I worked with the legislature to build out our Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the largest infrastructure investment in state history, we made it a priority to dedicate nearly half a billion dollars in state funding to bring 21st century design to CREATE's roads and rail," said Governor JB Pritzker. "That means maintaining our status as America's railroad hub with fewer bottlenecks, less traffic, increased safety, and more economic vitality for the entire region."
The estimated total cost for the Forest Hill Flyover and 71st Street Grade Separation projects is $380 million. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $132 million to the CREATE Program partners through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement and Argo Connections (B9) projects. The federal investment, combined with $260 million in state, local, and private funding, will support the construction of the Forest Hill Flyover (P3) and 71st Street Grade Separation (GS19) projects.
The Forest Hill Flyover (P3) project will construct a bridge which will resolve one of the largest rail chokepoints in the nation and the most congested in the Chicago terminal, Belt Junction. By significantly eliminating conflicts between the Belt Railway Company, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Metra train service at this location, the flyover connection will also enhance freight fluidity and connect Metra's SouthWest Service with the existing Rock Island District tracks, increasing capacity and improving reliability. This north-south rail-rail flyover at 75th Street will eliminate conflict between 30 SouthWest Service Metra trains and 35 freight trains operating on the Western Avenue Corridor (CSX).
Metra trains cross freight train tracks at several locations within the 75th St. CIP footprint, including the Forest Hill Junction. During peak commuter periods only Metra trains are allowed to run in these areas. As a result, freight trains - and sometimes Metra trains - may encounter lengthy delays. This project will seek to remove those delays and increase fluidity.
The accompanying 71st Street Grade Separation (GS19) project will solve conflict points at this rail-rail crossing, where pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers using 71st Street must currently wait for trains to pass. This crossing also presents a safety risk for drivers and pedestrians which will be ameliorated by the GS19 project.
"The funding secured through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program for this project of national significance was critical to getting us to this moment here today," said U.S. Senator Richard Durbin. "Addressing this critical chokepoint will allow for more efficient movement of people and goods across the region as well as the country."
"Cook County is a proud partner of the CREATE program, which is making significant progress toward unsnarling the region's rail lines," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "Every single project in the program's portfolio, big or small, ensures goods and people are able to travel throughout the County easily and safely. The County is committed to making investments in infrastructure and looks forward to beginning work on this critical project."
"Chicago is the largest North American rail gateway, and nearly half of the nation's intermodal trains move through our region," said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. "As the first projects in the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project to start construction, the Forest Hill Flyover and the 71st Street Grade separation will be transformational—improving neighborhood connectivity while reducing freight delays. I thank all the local, state and federal partners, along with Amtrak, Metra and the freight railroads, for working together to modernize our rail network."
"Improving our transportation network in a transparent, equitable way for all of our commuters is a top priority," said Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. "This project will reduce congestion on our railways, make commutes for pedestrians safer and ensure the entire network is more efficient."
"The CREATE Program is an innovative public-private partnership that is tackling one of the most congested points in our nation's rail network," said Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies, "The CREATE Program railroad partners are committed to enhancing safety and increasing fluidity throughout the Chicago region for both freight customers and rail passengers."
"The Forest Hill Flyover project is a significant improvement for Metra's SouthWest Service and has impacts that are felt throughout the network - including a connection to the existing Rock Island District tracks, increasing capacity and improving reliability of the service," said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski.
"The Chicago region dominates the U.S. rail market in both market share and total volumes moved," said Belt Railway of Chicago President and General Manager Percy E. Fields III. "The investments being made as part of the CREATE Program's 75th St. CIP will have a major impact on our region's ability to keep goods moving across the country."
The 75th St. CIP is the most complex piece within the overall CREATE Program and is a group of four projects that were advanced as a singular project due to their logistical and environmental similarities. This rail and roadway improvement project is located on the south side of Chicago in the neighborhoods of Ashburn, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and West Chatham along two passenger and four freight rail lines.
"As a Member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee it's great to be breaking ground today at the Forest Hill Flyover and 71st Street Grade Separation" said U.S. Representative Jesús "Chuy" García. "The CREATE program continues to blaze the trail as the first partnership between the U.S. DOT, State of Illinois, Cook County, City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak and the nation's freight railroads. For too long, we have been slapping band aids on our infrastructure problems without making the investments we need to solve them. Funding these projects is critical to advancing commuter travel."
"As Congressman for the district, I'm pleased to support this project of national significance," said U.S. Representative Bobby Rush. "Improving community mobility through community partnership is central to CREATE's mission."
CREATE Program partners include the United States Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Association of American Railroads.
"As a Member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee it's great to be breaking ground today at the Forest Hill Flyover and 71st Street Grade Separation," said U.S. Representative Marie Newman. "The CREATE Program partnership is meeting the moment as we face unprecedented challenges in our regional and national supply chain."
It was recently announced that CREATE partner CSX selected Granite Construction Company for two major portions of the 75th St. CIP: the Forest Hill Flyover (P3) and the 71st Street Grade Separation (GS19). The CREATE partners' commitment to creating economic opportunities in the surrounding neighborhoods is reflected in the 15 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms that comprise the Granite project team. The 75th St. CIP also provides workforce development programs and business-to-business networking events to encourage local participation.
"This project will help ease congestion for the motoring public," said Zach Wright, CSX Manager of Network Planning and Performance. "CSX is excited to be a part of this public-private team effort which will eliminate the existing CSX grade crossing at 71st Street, not only enhancing safety but also helping improve fluidity in one of the most heavily trafficked rail corridors."
The P3 and GS19 projects have linked stage 1 construction work schedules. The Forest Hill Flyover (P3) project construction is scheduled to take two years. Construction will begin in September 2022 and completion is anticipated for 2024. The 71st Street Grade Separation (GS19) project is an integral component of the P3 project; therefore, there are design efficiencies on the projects were done in tandem. After P3 construction is complete, a second section of GS19 will begin construction in 2024. It is two of 70 projects in the CREATE Program. The CREATE Program is a first-of-its-kind multimodal public-private partnership to improve the rail and roadway transportation network within the Chicago region. To date, 33 CREATE projects have been completed, with four more projects under construction and 15 in various stages of design.