$6 Billion Railroad Bypass Project Proposed

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STATELINE (WIFR) – A group of businessmen are looking to construct the largest new set of railroad track in more than 100 years and the historic project could be coming through the Stateline.

Great Lakes Basin headed by Frank Patton wants to build a railroad bypass to get cargo around Chicago’s congestion. The new set of tracks would begin in Northwest Indiana, extending through Illinois and up through Winnebago County, ending in Orfordville, Wisconsin. The five track wide project would free space in the nation’s rail hub and have a big impact on the Stateline.

“Yeah, there’s some kind of bypass that would expedite that and that could be anywhere from the Madison-Janesville area down to here and onto Chicago, even into Milwaukee, so the Chicago-Rockford-Madison-Milwaukee markets so that’s appealing,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.

Great Lakes Basin will take the next 3-6 months to gather information before presenting the plans to the National Surface Transportation Board. Patton says if the board gives the okay, he hopes the finish the project in 2018.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – A new $6 billion railroad is planned for Northern Illinois and would include the Rockford area. The project is aimed at helping railroads avoid the severe congestion for rail freight which must go through Chicago.

Train traffic heading into Chicago is often worse than the back-up nightmares on the city’s highways and streets. It can take a freight car several days just to get into and then out of Chicago, but that could soon change and mean great things for our area.

“What we did is we tried to design the most encompassing network where there’s something in it for every railroad and together, it’s something that is great for the region,” said Frank Patton.

Patton's Great Lakes Basin Railroad would basically be a railroad bypass of the Windy City, traveling from northwest Indiana around Chicago, coming right through the Stateline, and up to Orfordville, Wisconsin. Patton wants to give businesses whose destinations are not Chicago a second option to cut down on travel time and thus saving money.

"That's appealing. This is a global market defined as this area exports more than it imports so the better that we can do with our transportation, that's going to help the whole region out,” says Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.

The $6 billion project, which is being paid for with 100% private money, could mean big things for Rockford. The plan would e to relocate the downtown Rockford rail yard from its current spot off of South Main.

"That land should get redeveloped into more downtown, urban uses,” said Steve Ernst with the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Mapping.

The rail yard would then move south of the Chicago International Airport, an ideal location where manufacturers and distributors could tap into the new line.

"The idea of creating a rail facility of some kind out by the airport that the railroads can use in lieu of that is both beneficial to us and beneficial to the railroads. It's a win-win for both of us.”

The 285 mile project may only be in its early stages, but everyone involved seems confident it will be a success and bring hundreds of jobs to Winnebago County.

While the exact route has not yet been determined, early plans show the line heading north along Meridian Road in Western Winnebago County. Patton says beginning next month, his group will start compiling all of the information they need, including maps and studies. Once completed in three to six moths, the information will be turned into the National Surface Transportation Board.

If that board approves the project, an environmental impact study will be completed. Then actual construction on the tracks can begin. Patton is confident his rail building plan an subsequent Winnebago County job building plan will be okayed and hopes to have construction completed in 2018.