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Here are the pros and cons of the 3 proposed Peoria passenger rail station sites

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Tim Shelley
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WCBU
The railroad track crossing at the foot of Hamilton and Water streets in downtown Peoria, near the Gateway Building.

Three riverfront properties could be the site of Peoria's passenger rail station in a feasibility study on a proposed Peoria-to-Chicago route due out soon.

The sites of the River Station, Gateway Building, and State Street U.S. Post Office sites each offer some unique advantages, and some challenges.

WCBU recently spoke with Anthony Corso of Hanson Professional Services and Mark Vrba of Muller2 about their work. They are two of the planners studying the Peoria passenger rail station sites for an overview.

State Street Post Office

Government leaders have eyed the redevelopment of the U.S. Post Office building at 95 State Street for some time now.

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James A. Neubauer
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Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum / Chronicling Illinois
The nearly empty halls and waiting rooms reflect the state of rail passenger business in 1949, the date of this photo. Shown is the interior of the huge Peoria Union Depot.

Situated on the site of the former Peoria Union Depot, the post office location is again under consideration for Peoria's primary passenger rail hub.

"With the post office site, the biggest advantage of that site is just the amount of property that is potentially available," said Vrba.

Vrba said the site offers not only a spacious area for the initial train station development, but plenty of room for eventually extending the platform and adding additional parking as ridership grows.

There is a big downside, however.

"The entire facility is located on the reverse side of the track," Vrba said. "You'd need to cross the track to get to the station, which is potentially a disadvantage."

He said the platform could potentially be located back enough from the State Street crossing to allow the gates to remain open, however.

The site is within the state Peoria River Edge Redevelopment Zone, Warehouse District TIF District, and a federal Qualified Opportunity Zone.

River Station

The proposed train station site for the River Station is on the site of the current parking lot next to the historic Rock Island Depot.

Vrba said there's some real benefits to a River Station site.

"It's immediately in the downtown area. It's the center of town. It's right on the riverfront, it's at its historic location. We're bringing you passenger service back to that location," he said.

But the site also shares the wrong side of the tracks dilemma with the State Street site, with the added disadvantage of parking located on the opposite side of the tracks from the station.

The site lies within the Central Business TIF District and a federal Qualified Opportunity Zone. At least part of the proposed site also lies in the state River Edge Redevelopment Zone.

Gateway Building

Unlike the other two sites, the proposed station in the Gateway Building area is located on the city side of the railroad tracks at Hamilton and Eaton Streets.

"A great advantage of that is that everything's located on the city side. You don't have to cross the tracks to get to the station. It doesn't interfere or impact the park in any way. And it still offers some potential for expansion and redevelopment over time," Vrba said.

Vrba said the train station site would take over a large part of the current Water Street right-of-way, with the street realigned to make way for a station and platform. Parking would likely be located at the existing Caterpillar parking lot to the north.

The site is a bit further away from the center of downtown activity, however.

The site is within the Downtown Conservation TIF District and a federal Qualified Opportunity Zone.

What's next?

Community feedback gathered during an open house Thursday will factor into the final preliminary planning study for the Peoria passenger rail station.

"Obviously, each site has benefits and challenges. It's hard to pick one site that is a definite home run. But I think they're all valid," said Vrba.

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Tim Shelley
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WCBU
A list of pros and cons for each of the three Peoria passenger rail stations compiled by the planners putting together a preliminary study.

Cost estimates weren't immediately available.

Anthony Corso said the study meant to get ahead of the Illinois Department of Transportation feasibility study on the broader Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail proposal. That includes proposed stops along the way in LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Utica, Morris, and Joliet.

Corso said the study could also help Peoria land federal funding for expanded rail corridor planning.

"This is teeing us up for the next phase. Assuming that this moves forward, we'd probably spend the better part of the next year or so, in kind of the next level of study around this issue. Beyond that, it's hard to say," Corso said. "There are a lot of moving parts to that, and these do take years to get out of here."

Corso said putting together a preliminary plan for the train station location now allows for more thoughtful master planning if the project moves forward.

An Amtrak train is seen at Uptown Station in Normal.
Staff
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WGLT
An Amtrak train is seen at Uptown Station in Normal.

"This is what Normal, Illinois did, right? The museum, and the offices, and the bus transfer station, and the hotel, and all those things, and the traffic circle were all part of planning around this and tied to the passenger rail service planning that they were doing," he said. "So it's something to kind of look at and explore here."

Corso said a train station could eventually reinvigorate the walkable downtown area, adding a new sense of vibrancy for residents and visitors alike.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.