ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. - With part of the tracks upgraded and a small section of the corridor enjoying service at 110 mph, Illinois Department of Transportation officials launched the second tier of the project in the Metro East with a series of public meetings Tuesday.
St. Clair County wants high speed rail in East St. Louis, and Monday night officials put up a $500,000 carrot in hopes of getting it.
Currently, a 15 mile stretch from Dwight to Pontiac on the Chicago end of the corridor has service at 110 mph. By 2015, IDOT hopes to have infrastructure improvements in place to support those speeds from Dwight to Alton. New stations are planned at some stops including Alton.
Now, IDOT officials are getting ready to conduct an environmental impact study to see if another station is needed in between Alton and St. Louis.
"We need to determine the best alternative and if we need a station. We might not, we just don't know at this point. That is why we are hearing from the public and local officials," said IDOT Project Manager Francesco Bedini Jacobini.
"We are looking at the best way to cross into St. Louis from Granite City. There are two options. The Merchants Bridge or the MacArthur Bridge. One way puts more traffic on the St. Louis side, the other leaves more on the East St. Louis side. A lot of conversations are going to need to happen," said consultant Chris Gesing with Rail $ Transit NEPA Services.
Critics say this really isn't a high speed rail. In fact, when the corridor is completed in 2017 only an hour will be shaved off the 5.5 hour trip from St. Louis to Chicago. Some say Europoean trains travel at 220 mph, which would cut the trip to just two hours.
"The main reason is the cost. You are comparing spending $1.5 billion versus $20 billion or more. To do it now would not make sense unless we finish this corridor and use it as a springboard," said Jacobini.
The project has so far cost $1.5 billion. When the Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement is completed, officials say the project will be shovel ready for more federal funding.