East side residents fear a “steel barrier” at 10th Street

click to enlarge Lincoln Magnet School sits just one block east of the proposed high-speed rail corridor on 10th Street. Opponents worry children could be endangered and the school could be cut off from the rest of the city. - PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
Lincoln Magnet School sits just one block east of the proposed high-speed rail corridor on 10th Street. Opponents worry children could be endangered and the school could be cut off from the rest of the city.

High-speed rail is coming to Springfield, but it’s on a collision course with residents no matter what track it takes.

“The city wants to present a unified front on this,” said Springfield NAACP president Archie Lawrence. “But it is by no means unified.”

Lawrence opposes the city’s plan to send 40 to 60 extra trains down the 10th Street rail corridor as a new route for a proposed high-speed rail system connecting St. Louis to Chicago via Springfield.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Union Pacific railroad have already agreed to build the rail system on the Third Street corridor. The city and some neighborhood groups, citing concerns that a high-speed rail system on Third Street would divide and isolate the downtown, have petitioned IDOT and UP to reconsider plans before submitting grant applications to take advantage of a potential $2.3 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Even as the city and residents near Third Street worry about the effects of a high-speed rail system in their back yard, many east side residents feel the city is dumping the rail project on them without considering their concerns.

“It appears they’re trying to railroad people, no pun intended,” Lawrence said, calling the rail system a potential “steel barrier” to isolate what he characterized as a primarily poor, African American population.

“They don’t care what negative effects this will have on the east side.”

Lawrence said he took his concerns to various city officials, with little success.

“They just kept pushing the negatives of putting it on Third Street instead of 10th,” Lawrence said. “They’ve never even considered what it will do to 10th Street.”

The Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission is studying the issue, but its research is focused mainly on the Third Street option. Putting the rail project there would require constructing nine overpasses and an underpass in downtown, they estimate.

SSCRPC executive director Norm Sims pointed out Tuesday that the 10th Street corridor already has fewer at-grade crossings and more underpasses. The 10th Street option would only require three overpasses and one underpass, Sims said.

Still, the prospect of a massive increase in train traffic and long delays at rail crossings has many east side residents worried about safety, economic development, noise and a potential decrease in property values, Lawrence said.

“This track would separate the east side even more from the rest of the community,” he said. “The city has not considered the residents on 10th Street.”

Steve Combs, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, is a major proponent of moving the rail project to 10th Street. While Combs said he understands that east side residents have the same concerns as Third Street residents, he said the priority should be on preserving the city’s economic engine so all could benefit.

“If the medical district doesn’t grow, and the downtown shrinks, the overall income of the city shrinks,” Combs said, conceding that east side residents may have legitimate complaints about broken promises by the city in the past concerning roads, police and other services.

“To solve those problems, you’ve got to go to the economy generated by the entire community, the city of Springfield,” Combs said. “If the rail comes in on Third, you’re not going to have that money for anybody.”

Even so, Lawrence worries that the east side will be both confined and left behind economically if the rail project proceeds on 10th Street.

“It’s the normal case of neglect of the east side,” Lawrence said. “They’re trying to shove this down our throats.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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