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Ground broken for $86 million Springfield-Sangamon County Transportation Center

State Journal Register

Wednesday, October 13, 2021  |  Article  |  Riley Eubanks

Railroads (77)

A key component of Springfield’s yearslong effort to consolidate and modernize its railroads was unveiled Tuesday.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Gov. JB Pritzker, Sangamon County officials and Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder, among others, held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the new Springfield-Sangamon County Transportation Center, a part of the ongoing Springfield Rail Improvements Project.

The first phase is underway for the new $86 million facility dubbed "The Hub," which will house Amtrak's operational center and the Sangamon Mass Transit District's fleet of buses. Sangamon County engineer Brian Davis said SMTD buses could begin to be stationed at the center by December and added that despite external challenges and supply shortages, the facility should be completed by 2025.

Davis said the transportation center will be constructed in two phases, the first of which will be SMTD's new transfer facility. The second phase will be Amtrak's operational center. Springfield-based R.D. Lawrence Construction Co. is the contractor for the $15 million SMTD location and the Amtrak portion of the project is in the design phase.The SMTD facility is being paid for by the Rebuild Illinois capital plan signed into law in June 2019. The second phase, which includes a new parking garage in addition to the Amtrak center, is estimated to cost $71 million. About half of the second phase will be paid for using county funds with the rest being paid for with federal funds and money from the capital plan.Andy Van Meter, chairman of the Sangamon County Board, said the project, located just north of the Sangamon County building between Ninth and 11th streets, will improve access to county facilities. It'll also improve access and transportation to Chatham, Sherman, Rochester and Riverton in addition to Springfield.

"This project right here, when complete, will give people in the region the ability to seamlessly connect to the entire state," said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman.

In addition to the Amtrak center, phase two will include a new gathering place dubbed the County Square."Some people will view this only as a transportation hub for travel," Langfelder said. "In actuality, this center is a hub of opportunity. The Hub will transform and connect both sides of the track with potential development opportunities, positively impacting our downtown and east side while improving upon the lives of others."

Both current and former representatives of the east side on the Springfield City Council were in attendance including Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Ald. Roy Williams

During the press conference, which included remarks from various elected and appointed officials, Pritzker said the transportation center would bring more traffic to downtown Springfield, improving upon its physical connection to St. Louis and Chicago by rail.

Pritzker said the transportation center will help bring the community together and "continue the healing process for the crosstown racial injustice that these very railroad tracks have historically represented."

When asked about prospects for the economic impact considering Amtrak's ridership numbers have drastically regressed amid the ongoing pandemic, Pritzker and Durbin both defended the Washington, D.C.-based nationwide rail company, both saying it's integral both for travel and the transportation of goods.

"These trains and railroads are an integral part of our economy," Durbin said. "Why is Illinois the economic success it is and has been? Location, location, location. We're smack dab in the middle of America. And there are points in our history where that location meant everything in terms of building the economy to support the railroad system and vice versa."

Duckworth called the entire rail improvements project a "massive undertaking" and said improving transportation speeds in Springfield has a benefit for the entire country. She said southeastern parts of the U.S. can get grain faster from Brazil than it can from Illinois because of travel delays on the rail system.

State Sens. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, and Doris Turner, D-Springfield, and Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, all noted how the bipartisan capital bill, the first passed by the state legislature in a decade, directly benefited the rail improvements project.