East St. Louis says high-speed rail stop would help city rebound

News-DemocratMay 15, 2014 

— About 45 people gathered in front of City Hall Thursday to call for a high-speed rail station in East St. Louis.

The group included members of the clergy, politicians, local business owners and residents. Most of them are members of the United Congregations of Metro East.

The Rev. Jerome Rogers, vice president of the United Congregations of Metro-East, said the community sees the station as a strong economic development tool.

"We're tired of everything running around and through East St. Louis, but nothing stopping in the city. We need something to stop here. We need high-speed rail to stop in East St. Louis so we can get upward mobility. It's an economic engine, and it would mean jobs and be a magnet for others to know they can come and build their companies here, make profits and it is safe."

He said the Mississippi River is not what divides East St. Louis and St. Louis. He said economics is the tale of the two cities.

Rogers said some ask why preachers and churches are involved. The answer is simple: The faith community is charged with giving people hope.

Current plans call for the high-speed rail line to run trains going up to 110 mph from Chicago to St. Louis with local stops in Alton and St. Louis. St. Clair County has devoted $500,000 to study and design an East St. Louis station.

Paris Ervin, an Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman said, "We do not anticipate the environment impact study to be complete until fall 2015. Once complete, the study will include an analysis of a potential new station between Alton and St. Louis."

Alton is already a committed stop. Trains will continue to make as many stops in Alton as they do today. However, the possible additional station will be determined by the results of the environmental impact study, Ervin said.

The crowd was there to demonstrate public support for and East St. Louis station. They chanted: "What do we want?" "High-speed rail." "When do we want it." "Now. We have a need for high-speed rail."

Mayor Alvin Parks said leaders have gathered 10,000 signatures on a petition seeking the station. One speaker, Pastor Norma Patterson, said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider asked for a show of public support, and she said Schneider will receive the petitions when the group meets with Schneider on July 1.

Patterson said someone could get a job in Chicago and then go there early in the morning and return home to East St. Louis that same evening to be with his children.

"We want IDOT officials to consider us as a viable stop in this region -- St. Clair County, Southern Illinois and East St. Louis. We need the jobs that will come as a result of a light rail station being located here in East St. Louis. We're tired of being overlooked," Patterson said.

Barbara Henderson, the chief executive officer of the East St. Louis Business Development Chamber of Commerce, said the rail will "bring jobs, new businesses, new housing, and new people. East St. Louis, right now, is turning into a ghost town".

Henderson said people go to the Ram and Cardinal stadiums in St. Louis. And some would take the rail from Chicago to the games and go back home the same day."

"The Chamber of Commerce is working hard to get signatures to make sure the rail comes here. We need it for our city to come back," Henderson said.

Keith Mosby, pastor of Gethsemane Church of the Living God in East St. Louis, said, "East St. Louis will always be here on the map. Whether we want to admit it -- good or bad, East St. Louis will always be here. What happens here good or bad affects the surrounding communities. If we make it for good, it will be good for all of the surrounding communities. If it is bad, it will affect all of the surrounding communities, too."

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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