Governmental and religious officials rallied Thursday for the Illinois Department of Transportation to build a high-speed rail stop in East St. Louis.
IDOT working on a high-speed rail line connecting St. Louis to Chicago. Construction is already underway on rail improvements between Joliet and Alton, where a station is under construction.
Congress hasn’t issued federal money yet to build a high-speed rail line between St. Louis and Illinois. So IDOT is conducting an environmental impact study, which is a step in the process to procure federal funds.
One question is where the high-speed line should cross the Mississippi River. IDOT officials in February told St. Louis Public Radio they were looking at two options: crossing the Merchants Bridge in Madison County or the McArthur Bridge in St. Clair County. The latter option would conceivably allow for an East St. Louis rail station.
St. Clair County already pledged $500,000 to build the East St. Louis stop. And on Thursday, East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks joined with members of the United Congregations of Metro East to cement their support for the station.
“We need high-speed rail for St. Clair County and the logical spot is East St. Louis, Illinois,” Parks said.
Parks said having an East St. Louis station makes sense on a number of levels. He said it would be easier for people who live in Belleville or other nearby towns to drive to an East St. Louis station, as opposed to going to either St. Louis or Alton.
“Why are we thinking about all the infrastructure that has been developed to go around East St. Louis?” Parks said. “There are East St. Louisans, people from Centerville, Allerton, Washington Park, Brooklyn and other communities who also would like affordable transportation and ultra-modern transportation going to Chicago.”
Jerome Rogers, a pastor at the Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church, said an East St. Louis high-speed rail station would be an economic boon for the city that has long struggled with poverty and economic degradation.
“We want a high-speed rail to stop in East St. Louis because we don’t want to see anymore millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure that goes around our city and through or city, but does not stop in our city,” Rogers said. “And to let others know that they can come to this city, they can build their businesses, they can make profits. But they can also enrich the lives of so many people.”
IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin sent St. Louis Public Radio the following statement: “We do not anticipate the study to be complete until fall 2015. Once complete, the study will include an analysis of a potential new station between Alton and St. Louis.”
Alton mayor calls station proposal "absurd"
Not everyone is enthused by the prospect of an East St. Louis high-speed rail stop.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker told St. Louis Public Radio that placing a station so close to Alton's will defeat the purpose of high-speed rail. He said East St. Louis is already well served by highways and light rail.
"If you apply that logic, then you should place high-speed rail stations every 2.5 miles away, I guess," Walker said. "How does that make sense?"
Alton's City Council already passed a resolution against an East St. Louis rail station. And Walker said he's already expressed his opinion to IDOT, and he expects other surrounding cities to follow suit.
He said he didn't understand why St. Clair County is pushing so hard for the rail stop.
"Anyway you look at this, it makes absolutely no sense," Walker said. "So I really don’t know other than the fact that they may feel somehow left out that they didn’t get something. Maybe it’s to help East St. Louis. Is it a big economic impact? Yeah, absolutely it is. They definitely can be game changers for the area."
"I don’t know why they would want to put one two miles away from another one," he added. "It’s absolutely absurd."