CHICAGO - Mayor Lori Lightfoot was among a dozen political leaders who broke ground Tuesday on a major new transportation project, which promises to untangle rail lines and speed up a lot of road traffic.
The Forest Hill Flyover is a $380 million project designed to essentially untangle multiple rail lines that cut through the South Side.
"We are investing in the future," Sen. Dick Durbin said. "We're giving relief to the folks who have waited in line all their life on that train to pass by, and we're also making this a safe and a really meaningful investment in the future of this economy."
The CSX railyard at 75th Street and Western Avenue has become a major chokepoint for several of the large commercial railroads and Metra as they travel through the area.
The congestion really impacts people driving on 71st Street where there's a rail crossing that is sometimes blocked as long as a half-hour.
"They have to wait for almost a half hour sometimes," said 17th Ward Alderman David Moore. "A half hour. I've done it so I know."
The plan is to essentially create a flyover, lifting several of the north-south tracks in the railyard near 75th and Western so that they no longer intersect on the ground with east-west tracks for other rail carriers, including Metra, creating a chokepoint where 30 Metra trains and 90 freight trains cross each other's path every day.
"They basically have to un-squiggle everything, put more additional tracks in so that they can come straight, versus having to cross over track after track after track," said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski. "It's like changing lanes as you're merging into the highway."
The second big project involves raising the tracks over 71st Street and eliminating the grade crossing, so that thousands of drivers a day won't have to worry about getting stopped by a freight train.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said the projects will also provide an economic boost for the state.
"Job jobs jobs! That's what is happening here today and that's the importance of what we're doing," Pritzker said. "There's a lot more but think about what this is going to do for the economy of the state of Illinois."
Ald. David Moore (17th) said the flyover will also help people who live nearby sleep a little better with a reduction in noise from those intersecting rail lines and trains.
The two projects are part of a much bigger plan to unsnarl rail lines that are intersecting with streets throughout the Chicago area, which will take at least a decade to complete.