$380 million flyover project expected to ease rail congestion
Planners hope a new rail bridge will resolve one of the largest chokepoints for passenger and freight rail traffic in the nation.
A $380 million railroad project on the South Side is expected to eliminate one of the most congested rail chokepoints in the Chicago area.
“Make no mistake, Chicago is a transportation and economic epicenter for all of North America,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the CSX Forest Hill Yard, 7545 S. Western Ave., where the ceremonial groundbreaking for the project was held Tuesday. “It is a critical part of who we are and has been from our very beginning and it continues to be important today.”
More than a dozen local and federal leaders gathered at the rail yard in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood to celebrate what’s officially known as the Forest Hill Flyover.
Construction on the new rail bridge at 75th Street is expected to start this month. When complete, officials said, freight traffic will move more smoothly as the flyover reduces areas where tracks used by the Belt Railway Company, CSX and Norfolk Southern cross each other.
Currently, Lightfoot said, 30 Metra trains cross paths with 90 freight trains every day in that area.
“This presents challenges for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike — and poses threats to the climate given the collective emissions of trains and vehicles idling waiting at crossings,” Lightfoot said. “The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project will begin alleviating these challenges.”
The flyover will also help connect Metra’s Southwest Service with the existing Rock Island District tracks — increasing capacity while also improving reliability. Conflicts between 30 Southwest Service Metra trains and 35 freight trains operating on the Western Avenue corridor would be removed.
Metra trains cross freight tracks at multiple locations, including the Forest Hill Junction, and during peak commuter periods only Metra trains are allowed to run in these areas. This can cause both freight trains and Metra trains to sit idle for lengthy delays.
The project also includes eliminating a street-level rail crossing on 71st Street and improving safety and convenience for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.
These projects are the first two parts of four major projects being developed as part of the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project. It’s the largest project to date from the Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency Program.
That program, also known as CREATE, is a public-private partnership that works to improve how passengers and goods travel by rail. It is supported by transportation departments at the federal, state, county and city level.
Among those attending Tuesday was U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Gracia, D-Ill., who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The projects will “advance our supply chain and improve safety and convenience for commuters in the 75th Street corridor,” he said.
“Chicagoans are well aware of the importance of freight rail not just to our city’s economy but to the whole country,” Garcia said.
“The reality is that I see transportation policy in Chicago as a matter of racial and economic justice and for too long we haven’t acknowledged it as the social justice matter that it is.”
Garcia said Chicago has the busiest freight rail hub in the country, with nearly 500 freight trains and 750 passenger trains moving through the city every day. He said the project will eliminate 8,500 annual hours of passenger delays.
Nathan Goldman, CSX’s chief legal officer, said they are proud to be leading the first phase of the project but recognized the support from the other Class 1 freight railroad companies that have come together for CREATE program projects.
“CSX is excited to be a part of this public-private team effort which will eliminate the existing CSX grade crossing at 71st Street, not only enhancing safety but also helping improve fluidity in one of the most heavily trafficked rail corridors,” Goldman said in a statement.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said one thing stood out in his mind about this project: the influx of jobs on the South Side.
“Think about what this is going to do for the economy of the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago, this area itself,” Pritzker said.