New Bridge to End Bottleneck on Metra's Rock Island Line




A bridge on Chicago’s South Side that’s designed to end frustrating delays for riders on Metra’s Rock Island Line was formally dedicated Thursday.

The Englewood flyover — a $142 million project at 63rd and State streets funded largely with federal money — was finished last month and eliminated a crossing where the north-south Metra tracks met east-west tracks that carry freight and Amtrak trains.

It’s part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program, or CREATE, and the bridge also will help speed the flow of freight trains through the Chicago area, a major area of congestion for national rail traffic, officials said.

Metra said 78 weekday trains on the Rock Island Line are being carried over the freight tracks. Passenger trains sometimes were forced to wait for freight or Amtrak trains to clear the crossing, resulting in about 7,500 hours in delays annually for Metra riders.

Amtrak passengers also experienced delays because of the crossing issue, according to Tom Carper, an Amtrak board member and former chairman.

“Fourteen daily Amtrak trains to and from Chicago have faced delays at this location that are felt in Michigan, Indiana and all the way to the East Coast,” Carper said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, said the flyover “means improvement in the quality of life for area residents,” including improved air quality and less noise from idling trains. Lipinski’s father, former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski, was an ardent supporter of CREATE, and the congressman said he’s “committed to seeing the rest of the much-needed CREATE projects through to completion.”

A collaboration among the U.S. Department of Transportation, the state of Illinois, city of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak and the nation’s largest freight railroads, CREATE was established in 2003 and calls for about 70 projects in the Chicago region aimed at unsnarling freight and passenger rail traffic.

The Englewood flyover was completed with $131 million in federal funds, mostly stimulus money, as well as $8.2 million from the state and $3 million from the railroads, including Metra.

Metra said that completion of the bridge helps clear the way for other CREATE projects, including one that will divert trains on its Southwest Service Line to the Rock Island Line at a point south of the new bridge.

The flyover project was not without controversy. Early in the project, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, threatened to shut it down unless minority contractors were given equitable treatment in the award of contracts for the bridge’s construction.

In August 2013, Metra board member Larry Huggins was forced off the board after allegations by former chief executive Alex Clifford that a business partner of Huggins received a no-bid contract as part of the flyover project.