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Expansion of TIFs OKd for Norfolk Southern rail yard in Englewood

A Norfolk-Southern tracrosses MetrRock IslLine line 63rd State.  I  Sun-Times files

A Norfolk-Southern train crosses the Metra Rock Island Line line at 63rd and State. I Sun-Times files

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Updated: October 21, 2013 2:22PM



BY FRAN SPIELMAN

City Hall Reporter

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to strengthen Chicago as a rail and freight hub got back on track Thursday after a monthlong political derailment.

The Chicago Plan Commission agreed to expand a pair of tax-increment financing districts needed to allow Norfolk Southern Railroad to proceed with a $285 million expansion of the railroad’s intermodal yard in Englewood.

The massive project would enlarge by 57 percent and 84 acres an existing rail yard bounded by 47th, Wallace, Garfield and Stewart where rail containers are transferred to and from trucks.

Englewood residents and their environmental champions have extracted a string of concessions from Norfolk Southern armed with a new study that concludes that the project would make the pollution problem worse in a neighborhood that has long suffered from high rates of asthma.

Norfolk Southern has promised to retrofit trucks and construction equipment. The railroad also has promised to contribute $3 million toward transportation improvements, thousands more to area schools and to donate unused rail spurs that the city hopes to convert into an elevated bike trail akin to the Bloomingdale Trail.

They also have argued that traffic-signal improvements lready have alleviated truck congestion.

On Thursday, those sometimes heated negotiations paid off.

Plan Commission members unanimously sided with the mayor who appointed them — one month after ordering a delay to placate local residents.

“You’ve gone way beyond expectations,” said Plan Commission Chairman Martin Cabrera Jr.

Local Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said he, too, is “happy with the outcomes and the changes that have been made” by the railroad in an effort to appease area residents.

“This is not something that we have taken lightly or have taken to disregard or rob anybody in our community,” Cochran said.

“We see this as a big, big game-changer in our community — one like no other that has come into these communities recently. . . . At a time when we are going through various economic challenges, this is something we should be embracing for good-paying jobs, excellent paying jobs.”

Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andy Mooney added, “This is an extremely important project for the city. There were a number of issues we had to work through. . . . We’ve come a long way in responding to a lot of critical issues.”

Norfolk Southern has argued that the new study by the Environmental Law and Policy Center was based on “flawed assumptions” and that it’s “good theater” not based in “reality.”

At Emanuel’s behest, the City Council already has given Norfolk Southern the go-ahead to purchase 105 city-owned lots for $1.1 million to pave the way for the massive expansion of the railroad’s intermodal yard.

The project will be completed in phases. It will begin with making the yard more efficient by closing off 58th Street and putting in a Y-connection that would allow the railroad to access the western portion of the intermodal facility that now functions as two separate yards.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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