Crossing the aisle - crossing the rails

 

By Karen S. Lynch

The Zephyr, Galesburg

 

   Many taxpayers consider the word “earmark” a four-letter word when they see their tax dollars spent on projects like bridges to nowhere. Friday the 13th may have turned out to be a lucky day in Galesburg with an announcement that funding for a new bridge overpass could lead somewhere good.

   Rep. Phil Hare (D-Rock Island) and Tim Butler, representing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) announced they have secured $500,000 in the FY 2008 transportation budget appropriations bill to help construct an overpass bridge at the BNSF tracks on North Seminary Street. Hare and Butler was joined by State Representative Don Moffitt (R-Gilson), and Mayor Gary Smith at the Galesburg Welcome Center, where the announcement was made public Friday afternoon.

   “This is a good earmark,” remarked Tim Butler, District Chief of Staff for Congressman Ray LaHood, who was unable to attend the announcement. “This is a good week for bipartisan politics. We came together for the good of the people and we worked together. We worked very carefully with Congressman Hare. I would like to thank Moffitt and Risinger for bringing LaHood up here to see first hand the BNSF railroad yards. Galesburg really embraces the railroad.” Butler commented earmarks have gotten a bad image but they are necessary when a community has a vital need, like safety issues of emergency vehicles delayed by trains.

   Congressman Phil Hare thanked Don Moffitt for his efforts. “Don took us for a ride looking around town. We learned a lot. You have a wonderful State Representative. We don’t get many chances for team efforts. I applaud Moffitt for all he has done.” Hare remarked, working across the aisle in a nonpartisan way sends a strong message. “It’s about public safety. We are still not done. We have to get it through the house but I want to thank Representative LaHood for helping get this through.” The full house could vote on the bill later this month.

  Moffitt thanked Hare for his kind words. “I have some words for you, thank you for getting it this far. This is a bipartisan effort we are working on – it’s a safety issue.” He sees the BNSF rail yard a more likely candidate for expansion if they can move more freight faster. Galesburg may eventually see as many as 11,000 trains pass through city limits with a 68% projected increase of freight traffic in the next eight years. According to Moffitt, BNSF is looking at more expansion somewhere. “We want it to be Galesburg. We want to keep Illinois as the rail hub of the nation. We have a window of opportunity as Burlington Northern expands.” Moffitt added, “We would like to see them an even larger employer.” Moffitt has worked hard to obtain funding for the railroad overpass but also thanked both Congressman Hare and LaHood, “We really appreciate it.” 

   Mayor Gary Smith called the half-million dollar appropriation a “good kick start.” The proposed overpass, estimated to cost $14 million in design and construction would help ease congestion from rapidly increasing rail traffic that is also seeing longer trains according to Smith. While the city has been holding public hearings on railroad bridges, Smith commented that North Seminary Street is a major artery street and leads directly to two hospitals. Trains not only cause traffic congestion, they are a life/safety issue for police, fire, and ambulance services where minutes count when property or lives are at stake.

   Smith also discussed the offshoot benefits of the grade separation on North Seminary Street. Economic development with the railroad promises future good paying jobs and temporary construction jobs, besides easing congestion and noise of train whistles, improving the lives of Galesburg citizens.

   The half-million dollar appropriation bill is expected to pass and some money has been secured from the Illinois Commerce Commission and from BNSF. More federal funds will be needed once construction begins, possibly by 2010. Hare said he hopes to return next year with Ray (LaHood) with more funding. “I met with Chairman Oberstar. I kept lobbying them from a ‘burg’ perspective and I think we’ll be in better shape next year. I think the President will sign this. I am cautiously optimistic.”

 

July 16, 2007