LANSING | There may be $385 billion in funds anticipated for transportation-related projects during the next three decades. But as of now, a proposed commuter railroad line through the southeast suburbs to Crete doesn't qualify for any of it.
Yet Don Kopec, head of the planning and programming division of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, said Wednesday that local officials are taking steps that could make their desired project a higher priority in the near future.
The Southeast Commuter Rail Transit District has been working for the past year to try to identify possible funding sources to develop a proposed train line from Chicago's LaSalle Street station to the Balmoral Park Racetrack near Crete. Later this month, officials will be meeting with freight railroads to negotiate the exact track route that a commuter train line would use.
"The fact that you're doing this puts you near the top" of projects that could qualify for the federal, state and local funds that CMAP officials keep track of, Kopec told the rail district's board.
CMAP officials did their most recent study in 2010, and likely will update it in another two years. That study says there is $385 billion expected to be available through 2040, with $333 billion being spent just to operate roads and transit districts as they exist now. Anticipated improvements will cost another $41.8 billion.
Kopec said that leaves only $10.5 billion left for new projects. As of now, that money is split up among 18 projects, with another 32 projects — including the Southeast Metra proposal — getting nothing.
Among the projects now designated to receive funds are the proposed extension of the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line trains south to 130th Street near the Hegewisch neighborhood, and construction of an interchange where Interstate 57 and the Tri-State Tollway meet just west of Harvey.
But Kopec said such lists are constantly changing, and that CMAP officials will be looking next spring for projects that may have developed to the point that they should be considered feasible.
Kopec told the rail district that projects generally need a sponsor that can get them started financially, and Lynnette Ciavarella, an assistant division director of capital and strategic planning for the Metra commuter railroad, said officials there have included the Southeast line project in recent years on their list of projects they believe CMAP should take seriously.
Kopec said he believes it is in the rail district's interests to work with Metra in developing the project.
"It is imperative to work with Metra," Kopec said. "You'd be shooting yourselves in the foot if you tried to break away."