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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Ronald Batory is probably not an official you’ve heard of before. But yesterday, he was the man to impress in Springfield. Mayor Jim Langfelder, Sangamon County Chairman Andy Van Meter, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-13), representatives for Congressman Darin LaHood (R-18), Senators Tammy Duckworth (D) and Dick Durbin (D), as well as other local stakeholders all came out to meet with Administrator Batory.

Batory is the Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). They are the organization that oversees America’s railroads. They will control if Springfield can move forward with its various high speed rail improvements and track consolidation efforts.

The bipartisan efforts seem to have paid off. At the press conference, Batory pointed to the local “unanimity” supporting the project. Batory also has Springfield ties, so he was already somewhat familiar with the projects being discussed.

A happy discovery causes a delay

The rail projects have been in the planning stages for decades. According to Davis, funding has been one of the perennial hangups delaying the project. But a valuable discovery in the Carpenter Street Corridor also played a role in slowing the project down.

Remains of several homes that had been destroyed during the 1908 Race Riot were discovered in the construction area. The riot played an important role in African American history, as it was the catalyst that lead to the creation of the NAACP in 1909. Finding these homes and the artifacts inside was a discovery of both local and national significance.

It also meant that the FRA put a hold on the rail construction in the area. The historic nature of the Carpenter Street area made it eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. This made the FRA reluctant to allow work to continue in the area. It took several months to establish that there were no prudent alternatives. A plan was developed to minimize the impact on the historic site so the rail work could continue, which was endorsed by both Illinois’ Senators as well as Davis and LaHood.

Artifacts from the site are undergoing curation and preservation efforts. The hope is that some will be displayed both locally and in the Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress.

Looking to the future

The future looks bright for the Springfield Rail Improvement Project. Having convinced Administrator Batory, the project appears to be on or moving to the “fast track.” It is anticipated the work will be completed by 2025.

You can watch the full press conference in the player above, or Congressman Davis’ Q&A session below:

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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