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State action needed to back railroad project, officials say
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/13/2008 12:02 AM

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A plan to end the Chicago region's train gridlock and slowdowns is only about $2 billion away.

Metra planners updated board directors Friday on the status of the CREATE effort, short for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Project. The program includes 47 railroad improvements ranging from 25 grade separations at highway and rail crossings, double tracking, viaduct improvements and six grade separations between passenger and freight railway tracks.

But only $186 million has been received of the $322 million needed for the first part of the project - the engineering and design phase - from the federal government and railroads. The state and city of Chicago also committed dollars but the Illinois budget crisis and lack of a capital plan is threatening the project's success, Metra leaders warned.

"Without a state capital bill, no one including the railroads will put up any money," Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano said. Construction costs are expected to top out the program at more than $2 billion.

The region is one of the most congested areas for trains in the world, officials said. Railroads are willing to put up with the costly delays because of the promise of CREATE but if the program dies because of no state money or additional federal funding, they'll look elsewhere, officials said.

"CREATE will make or break the freight industry in Chicago," Pagano said.