Moving Peoria Forward

City of Peoria Mayor Rita Ali 

The proposed passenger rail corridor from Peoria to Chicago’s Union Station has taken another huge step in the effort to bring Amtrak service to and from Peoria. This past December 2023, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that the Peoria to Chicago Passenger Rail Service application was selected for the FRA Corridor Identification and Development Program. 

This program, developed under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is the method for which new intercity passenger rail projects in the United States will be developed and guided. The program consists of three steps: Scoping, Project Planning, and Project Development, each having specific deliverables to be approved by the federal government. Once all three steps are completed, the project advances to a prioritized “pipeline” of projects that are eligible for funding under the FRA’s financial assistance programs. 

The corridor program designation comes with federal funding support. Step 1, Scoping the Service Development Plan, comes with a federal award of $500,000 and requires no matching dollars. Step 2, Preparing the Service Development Plan, is 90% federally funded and requires a 10% local match. Step 3, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Preliminary Engineering, is 80% federally funded and requires a 20% local match. Matching funds have been reserved for this purpose by the City of Peoria and its corridor partners. Initial kickoff and activities began in January, and bi-weekly meetings will commence between the FRA and a core team assembled by myself as well as the Peoria City Manager. The team is representative of those cities along the corridor.

The city will obtain quotes from qualified consultants to begin scoping the service development plan. The initial deliverables will be the scope, schedule, and budget for the plan.

This project is a multi-year development. It requires extensive collaboration and resources. The effort began as a local initiative that became part of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) 2023 State Rail Plan and is now a federal project. IDOT is an essential partner. They sponsored the initial feasibility study which projected strong ridership and a public interest survey that generated over 31,000 responses reflecting overwhelming support for this service.

A total of 69 projects were selected, throughout the country, to participate in the Corridor ID program. Five of these projects are in the State of Illinois. 

The Route

The Peoria to Chicago passenger corridor can be described as the 1937-1978 former Rock Island Peoria Rocket passenger route. It will originate in downtown Peoria and will terminate at Chicago Union Station to connect with Amtrak’s nation-wide rail network. The corridor will bring passenger rail service to other communities including LaSalle, Peru, Ottawa, and Morris, that currently do not have rail service as a transportation option. There will be a flag stop in Utica, where Starved Rock State Park is located. 

Currently, Peoria is the largest metropolitan area in the state without passenger rail service. This new service will provide five round trips daily to include those cities noted above plus Joliet and Chicago Union Station. Ridership potential is estimated at 600 average daily riders.

The Peoria to Chicago Passenger Rail Service will improve safety by diverting trips from auto to rail, a statistically safer mode of travel. It will also address issues of equity for individuals without vehicles to have better access to rail transportation. Regional equity will be addressed by expanding multi-modal travel options.

Economic Impact

The location of the corridor and its ability to connect several employment centers and areas experiencing economic growth make it possible to generate significant national economic benefits, including benefits related to economic competitiveness. These benefits include travel-time savings, out-of-pocket transportation cost savings, and pavement maintenance cost savings. 

New stations are proposed for the communities of Peoria, LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa, Morris, and a flag stop in Utica. The station locations under consideration are well positioned to support transit-oriented development that can reduce reliance on vehicular trips and encourage active and transit-focused travel. These are opportunities to bring more people and vibrancy into downtown areas, create a more transit-oriented environment, support existing planned development projects, and improve resident access to jobs, recreation, and educational opportunities. 

The Collaboration

In August 2021, I teamed up with Ray LaHood, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, to work together in bringing passenger rail service to the Peoria area. We assembled the Peoria Passenger Rail Leadership Team, comprised of key stakeholders from state and local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, businesses, education, healthcare, and labor departments. The team has been dedicated, persistent, and aggressive in moving its agenda forward, reaching numerous milestones over the past two and a half years. The current goal is to complete the three steps for the Corridor ID program and advance to the pipeline of prioritized and funded projects for construction and implementation. Collaboration has and will continue to be the key to moving Peoria forward.

Peoria Passenger Rail Leadership Team

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