Amtrak’s 21st Street bridge needs replaced

Amtrak's 21st street bridge is close to the water.

On Tuesday, the 21st Street drawbridge in Chicago got stuck up, forcing Metra to cancel trains on two routes and delaying Amtrak trains on seven routes by several hours.

This emphasizes the needed for a bigger federal program to invest in railroad infrastructure to replace this bridge, and many other bridges, with more reliable structures.

A map showing the Amtrak routes that cross the 21st bridge.The 21st Street bridge is located just south of Union Station and is owned by Amtrak. All of the Amtrak trains to Michigan, points east and southern Illinois use it to leave Chicago. Two Metra routes operate over it. Additionally, several freight railroads use it to interchange freight trains.

The bridge is very low, forcing it to raise for even small pleasure boats. It gets stuck open too often. It should be replaced with a fixed-span bridge at the same height as the nearby city-owned Halsted Street bridge.

This will be a challenging project, with a roadway bridge providing a constraint to the north and a CTA transit bridge to the south.

It’s worth it, though, because the 21st Street bridge is a critical part of the national railroad network. It needs to be prioritized for replacement with the same urgency that Amtrak is putting on the Portal Bridge and others on the Northeast Corridor. The Illinois Department of Transportation should play a big role in making the project happen.

This project should be prioritized for the next round of funding. But it is just one of many, so Congress needs to step up its investment in railroads through the Federal Railroad Administration.

Currently, Congress is debating government funding levels for FY2024. The House Appropriations committee recently voted to slash the FRA’s funding. The Senate’s version will hold the line at last year’s level—better, but still not enough.

This process has also gotten a little crazy again, with a government shutdown likely. That makes it important to remind your representative and senators that you want fast trains, and ask them to view the Senate’s proposal as the floor.

Putting off infrastructure maintenance and investment might save money in the short run, but it costs more in the long run—and it passes those costs on to travelers, industry, and freight shippers. We all lose time and money when critical infrastructure like bridges break down

Instead, let’s build a bridge to the future. Ask your U.S. representative and senators to appropriate the full amount for rail investment that the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized.

 

 

Ask Congress to fully fund the Federal Railroad Administration

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