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Peoria passenger rail proposal chugging along; stop in Utica added to plan

Train tracks running near Adams Street near the McClugage Bridge, along the Illinois River in Peoria, Ill.
Tim Shelley
Train tracks running near Adams Street near the McClugage Bridge, along the Illinois River in Peoria, Ill.

Plans to get a Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail route rolling into action appear to remain on track.

Officials with the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration are conducting interviews with stakeholders Wednesday and Thursday as part of the process to draft a final report on the proposed route. That report is due out sometime in May.

During a Tri-County Regional Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said stakeholders have met twice so far with officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak.

Urich said the meeting with the FRA led to a tip about potential funding available through a corridor planning and development program. The federal infrastructure bill infused $12 billion over the next five years into new passenger rail service planning and construction.

"We would fit that mold," said Urich.

Comments for that plan are due in by March 9.

"Getting into that corridor identification program will help to put our project in a priority status when it comes to funding from the bipartisan infrastructure act," said Peoria Mayor Rita Ali. "So that's where we want to be."

Urich said a survey gathering feedback to the passenger rail proposal garnered more than 31,000 responses before closing this week.

The proposed route runs along the old Rock Island Rocket line through Peoria, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Morris, and Joliet before hitting the city of Chicago. Ali said the plan was modified to add an additional stop.

"We've added a stop in Utica that may be seasonal," she said. "But as you know, that's where Starved Rock State Park is, going into Joliet, and then going into Chicago."

The state park is the most-visited in Illinois, with more than 2 million visitors annually on average in recent years.

Ali said the stakeholder group is now comprised of 47 members, up from the original 20.

High-cost estimates for constructing the passenger rail route are expected in by the end of this week, Ali said. An Illinois Department of Transportation study is slated to wrap up by April, and ridership estimates should be available by the end of March or early April.

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said a local study has also narrowed down three sites for a potential train station location in downtown Peoria.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.