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METROLINK EXPANSION

The MetroLink train for the Shiloh-Scott area in Illinois waits for passengers at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in 2006.

(AP Photo/James A. Finley)

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent announcement of state funding for several significant infrastructure projects in the Metro East is exciting news for our entire region. The nearly $450 million in funding will advance a variety of projects that will enhance our region’s freight network and support the extension of the MetroLink light rail system in St. Clair County.

The projects funded will go a long way toward improving and expanding important infrastructure for the benefit of both shippers and commuters. Among the highlights are:

• $81 million for the Illinois Route 3 Connector, a project that will improve traffic flow, connectivity and access between East St. Louis, Fairmont City and Madison. Illinois Route 3 is the backbone of the nearly 60-mile long, five-mile wide economic corridor in southwestern Illinois, and the funding will enhance economic development opportunities in this segment of that corridor. The project includes reconstruction of portions of Exchange Avenue, as well as new construction of the Illinois Route 3 Connector, portions of relocated Illinois Route 3 and intersection improvements at Illinois Route 203.

• $33 million for a new interchange on Interstate 255 at Imbs Station Road with a connection to Davis Street Ferry Road in Dupo. The new interchange reconstruction project will facilitate industrial and commercial growth and better serve the Union Pacific Dupo intermodal yard, which is one of the region’s highest priority freight assets with unit train capabilities providing low transportation prices for shippers and manufacturers. We commend St. Clair County and the village of Dupo for their tireless efforts to advance this priority project.

• $96 million to extend the MetroLink light rail system from the Shiloh-Scott Station by Scott Air Force Base to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, which saw its highest number of passengers ever in July 2019. The new MetroLink station would also serve portions of the MidAmerica Enterprise Zone in St. Clair County, which recently announced it can now offer property tax abatement for commercial developments within the Enterprise Zone for the first time since it was initially created in 2000. That could be a key milestone in attracting future development and jobs to the 1,500 acres of land on both sides of Interstate 64 in the vicinity of MidAmerica Airport.

The additional $233 million will be spread across targeted projects on Interstate 255/U.S. 50, Interstate 64 and Interstate 55 for bridge, ramp and shoulder repairs, resurfacing, new lanes and other enhancements, all of which will strengthen these vital infrastructure assets for the future.

Omer Osman, acting secretary of transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation, commented on the significance of the projects being funded in the Metro East and across the state.

“For far too long, we have lacked the ability to invest in our infrastructure,” Osman said. Because of the new state funding “to support our transportation system, our roads, bridges, ports and rail systems will be improved, and Illinois will be back in business as a leader in the movement of freight.”

We couldn’t agree more that the projects funded in the Metro East will support the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s efforts to enhance the bi-state region’s standing as a premier international freight hub.

There is no doubt that, once again, a key factor in securing this critical funding was the ability and willingness of regional leaders in the public and private sectors and from all modes of transportation to join forces and build consensus. Together, they advocate for projects that we all know are vital to improve safety, boost efficiency, enhance freight efficiency and reliability and grow the economy.

Because of the united front when engaging state and federal elected leaders to make the case for the priority projects in our communities, our region helped to ensure many of those projects got the attention they deserved. Collaboration continues to make a difference and contributes to the big win our region is celebrating.

Mike McCarthy is President of Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis and chairman of St. Louis Regional Freightway’s Freight Development Committee.