St. Clair County hopes $500K will lure high speed rail station to ESL

News-DemocratFebruary 24, 2014 

St. Clair County is offering to foot $500,000 of the cost to bring a high speed rail station to East St. Louis.

The St. Clair County board voted to approve the incentive on Monday night during a board meeting. The local funding would be used for the design and planning of an East St. Louis station in the hopes of convincing state officials to add the station to the high speed corridor under construction between St. Louis and Chicago.

The East St. Louis Station would be adjacent to the MetroLink on River Park Drive and about 3 miles from the St. Louis terminal. The proposed station would provide access to trains reaching 110 mph along a 284-mile rail track.

State officials would also need to approve a county proposal to split stops between Alton and East St. Louis.

The board voted 22 to 5 in favor of the proposal. Board members voting against included Republicans Ed Cockrell of New Athens, Craig Hubbard of O'Fallon, Nick Miller of Lebanon and David Tiedemann of Shiloh along with Democrat Frank Heiligenstein of Freeburg.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said he hoped the board would have supported the incentive unanimously and the station would capitalize on $800 million in state and federal investments in area infrastructure.

"This station will be integral part of an inter-modal station," Kern said. "It will be the only one like it on the route. The only one with direct connect, if we have anything to say about it, to the MetroLink. We believe this will be a highly successful station.

The federal government has provided $1.2 billion and the state government has provided $500 million to fund the project. The $500,000 in local funding would stem from sales taxes collected by the county's Transit District.

Miller said he voted against the proposal because there was no guarantee the state would approve the station.

"We have better things to be spending money on," Miller said after the meeting. "Kern came before us in November wanting to raise fees to fix a budget shortfall and a majority of the board voted to raise fees. Then in December, he comes before us for a sales tax increase for the jail problem. Then on top of that the (county-owned) MidAmerica (airport) budget is $1.4 million in the red.

"Now here we are with another half million dollars for a train station study. Basically, the only thing high speed that Mark Kern does is raise taxes and spend money."

Kern said the station was a good investment benefiting East St. Louis and the entire county.

"It will help an underserved population in St. Clair County have a station accessible to them, and also help 270,000 people and beyond gain convenient ridership to high speed rail not only to Chicago but many stops in-between," Kern said.

Significant reductions in travel time to Chicago is expected to begin in 2015. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2017.

The vote comes on the eve of a public meeting in East St. Louis detailing the high speed rail project.

In particular, the meeting will provide information about an environmental study underway by state officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation. The study is gauging the effect of increasing more rail traffic across the Mississippi River to St. Louis.

The meeting will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, located at 101 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Circle.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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