DECATUR — Community leaders have secured the final major funding piece of a $40 million project to build an overpass carrying road traffic on Brush College Road over Faries Parkway and the adjacent railroad tracks, the site of the longest train delays in the city.
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Tuesday a $25 million grant from the federal government to go to the overpass, clearing the way for construction in 2020.
"We've been working on this for gosh, three years," Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said. "We have been working so diligently and so cohesively as a community, we're all just thrilled to death."
The Brush College overpass project is the central piece to more proposed changes on Brush College Road, extending to William Street Road. Local officials hope the projects will attract more commercial freight and shipping traffic to the area by leveraging Archer Daniels Midland Co.'s intermodal facility. ADM lets other companies pay for the use of its intermodal ramp, which allows shipping containers to move between trucks and freight trains.
The city and county's joint effort involved hiring a consultant and lobbyist, Ann Schneider, who previously worked for IDOT. Schneider said Tuesday that with $39 million now secured from the state and federal governments for the overpass, only about $900,000 of the initial estimate for the project remains unfunded.
"We need to sit down and figure out completely what the sources are (for funding the rest of the project), but I don't anticipate it would be a significant contribution from local tax revenues," Schneider said.
Several other steps remain before the project breaks ground, Moore Wolfe said, including engineering work. She said construction could start in the federal fiscal year of 2020, which begins Oct. 1, 2019.
The overpass was one of 23 projects in Illinois to receive a total of $241 million of federal dollars through the National Highway Freight Program. IDOT officials opened up the funds to a competitive bidding process this year, in part to ensure projects went throughout the state, Schneider said. The competition was designed for five years of funding.
City leaders have been working for more than five years on the larger Brush College Road Improvement Project, which has multiple components: the overpass at Faries Parkway; an overpass just a few blocks south to take vehicles over a Norfolk Southern-owned rail yard; and a state project to widen the intersection with East William Street Road and expand Brush College Road from two lanes to four lanes, according to Schneider.
The total cost of the project is estimated at more than $80 million.
A 2013 transportation studied revealed the delays at Brush College and Faries to be the longest in the city: Drivers waited an average of 17 hours each week for trains to pass, with some stuck longer than 20 minutes because of train traffic blocking the intersection. The overpass eliminates that wait time, Schneider said.
"What we often refer to is the 'last mile' in transportation logistics," said Nicole Bateman, executive director of the Midwest Inland Port, which encompasses ADM's intermodal facility and the area's shipping infrastructure. "The more blocks and congestion, the more expensive it is. Anytime we can make an improvements, the more competitive that we become as a region to improving our local economy."
The waits also affect commuters who work in the area and study at nearby Richland Community College. "Most of our workforce works within the square miles out there," Moore Wolfe said. "It's where we go to work, it's where goods are shipped in and out — this is going to be good for our entire community beyond. It raises everything."
Tuesday’s news comes several months after railroad regulators announced they have earmarked more than $13.5 million for proposed upgrades as part of the project as part of the the Illinois Commerce Commission’s five-year Rail Crossing Safety Improvement Plan.
"After months of hard work under the leadership of the mayor and County Board Chairman (Jay) Dunn to sharpen our focus on Decatur's transportation priorities, the day that our local team always knew would come has arrived," City Manager Tim Gleason said. "The project will provide a real economic boost for existing businesses and will spur new development that will go a long way towards positioning Decatur as a transportation hub.
"Just as important is the fact that that Decatur residents will no longer have to figure out how to avert the freight traffic."