An elevated viewing area near the Capitol and a paved trail for pedestrians and bicyclists are among options that could revitalize neighborhoods and attract business and residential developers to Springfield's urban center along a corridor now used by trains.
"This has the potential to create what we call a historic impact for the city of Springfield and promote a lot of businesses to be downtown," said Michael Mendenhall, a senior structural engineer for Hanson Professional Services Inc.
"It's going to be very attractive for people to want to live next to, and build a business next to, because you've got pedestrians and bicyclists coming along that would be willing to potentially stop and spend money," said Mendenhall, project manager for the Third Street rail corridor redevelopment.
The project will focus on the approximately five miles to be vacated when train traffic in Springfield is transferred to the 10th Street corridor by late 2025.
Railroad relocation, funded by the state, federal and local governments, is a $450 million effort that involves consolidating and improving rail lines by moving rail traffic from the Third Street corridor to the 10th Street corridor and building underpasses at rail crossings throughout the city.
Redevelopment efforts could extend beyond the Third Street rail line and include the area where the Interurban and Wabash trails meet on the south to the Illinois State Fairgrounds on the north, Mendenhall said.
Tracks on the Third Street corridor could be removed in 2026, with redevelopment potentially beginning in 2027 and wrapping up in 2029, he said.
There's no price tag for the work other than Hanson's "rough," mid-range estimate of $14.6 million for design, engineering and construction, he said.
Hanson solicited opinions from the public about the project at a Sept. 1 meeting at Bank of Springfield Center and displayed artistic renderings of suggestions first created for Hanson's 2011 study on rail relocation.
The company is working on a feasibility study that will provide more detailed cost estimates for various options and a framework Springfield and Sangamon County officials can use to seek grants for improvements along the five-mile-long corridor.
Funded with $250,000 from county government, the study will be released later this year or early next year, Mendenhall said.
"It gives us a rough idea of grants we would need to pursue," he said. "The point of this is getting public feedback and really trying to narrow the focus."
With major infrastructure improvement programs taking place at the state and federal level, "we're at a time right now when there is a lot of grant funding that's available," Mendenhall said.
Many decisions will need to be made by Springfield and Sangamon County officials on firm plans for the corridor, which is about 60 feet wide, he said. The city and Union Pacific Railroad own various sections of the land, and Union Pacific is expected to eventually transfer its land along the Third Street rail corridor to the city, he said.
About 80 people attended the Sept. 1 public meeting. Enthusiasm about the project was evident, Mendenhall said after it was over.
"The biggest thing I've heard tonight is, 'How quick can you get this done?'" he said.
Some members of the public have said they want to see the railroad bridge over Capitol Avenue developed into a spot for viewing the Capitol, Mendenhall said.
Renderings depict that idea as well as another area of the corridor – between Capitol Avenue and East Washington Street – that could be a prime spot for a farmer's market and sites where merchants could sell food.
Springfield resident Marcia Wherry, a retired state worker who attended the public meeting, said: "I'm glad that there's serious thought being given to this. We don't want to see that land wasted. ... Some of the photographs are pretty idealistic."
Wherry said she wonders how any path would be made safe for pedestrians and cyclists crossing streets that intersect with the corridor. Mendenhall said there are several possibilities, including raised elevations at crossings to make people on the path more visible.
Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said he would like to see a solar-powered trolley line considered for at least part of the corridor.
There will be several more opportunities for the public to weigh in on the future of the corridor, he said.
Hanson has used drone video footage to create an aerial view of the corridor that is available at bit.ly/ThirdStreetCorridor.
Questions and comments can be directed to Hanson senior technician Jimmie Austin at email@example.com or 217-747-9257.