Southland transit district created

Chicagoland Southland Economic Development Corporation – Posted Mar 8, 2011, 11:18 AM by Mike Rizzitiello

A new Metra line serving communities such as Chicago Heights and Glenwood moved a step closer to reality Monday after Gov. Quinn signed legislation creating the Southeast Commuter Rail Transit District.

Long envisioned by Southland leaders, the 33-mile SouthEast Service Line would use existing freight rail rights-of-way and serve commuters who don’t have easy access to the Metra Electric line. Building the line could relieve congestion on highways such as the Bishop Ford and Illinois 394, and create economic development opportunities in suburbs along the line, said Don DeGraff, South Holland’s mayor and chairman of the Southeast Service Rail Development Board.

Quinn was in South Holland on Monday to sign legislation sponsored by state Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) to create the transit district.The district would have authority, for instance, to acquire rights to use the freight rail line, buy land to build train stations and purchase rail cars.

A tentative plan for the new line has been filed with the Federal Transit Administration, and a final proposal is expected to be submitted later this year. The SouthEast Service Line is estimated to cost $778 million, with the new transit district responsible for coming up with $200 million of that. While the district would have bonding and taxing powers, DeGraff said “our goal is not to dig into existing tax sources” to pay for the commuter line. Board members have “all kinds of great ideas” for potential funding sources, but no specific plans at this point, he said.

The commuter line was included in a federal transit bill signed by President Bush in 2005, but has lacked the local matching dollars needed to secure the federal commitment. A plan for the line was submitted about a year ago to the Federal Transit Administration for its “New Starts” transit grant program. Creating the transit district, and the ability to generate local dollars for the project, should boost the project’s chances, Riley said Monday. “The FTA will see we are serious,” he said.