The city, county and state took a positive step forward Wednesday in the ongoing controversy over high-speed rail in Springfield and where it should go.

The city, county and state took a positive step forward Wednesday in the ongoing controversy over high-speed rail in Springfield and where it should go.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter and Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig signed an agreement that funds an environmental study of consolidating train traffic at the 10th Street rail corridor.

The agreement says IDOT won’t spend money on Third Street until the study is complete. It also says the city and county will support IDOT’s proposal to spend $4.5 billion to establish a high-speed rail link between St. Louis and Chicago.

If “the preferred alternative chosen in the (environmental impact study) is the 10th Street corridor, IDOT and the IDOT secretary agree to submit an amendment to any approved or then pending (high-speed rail) federal grant application to shift the railroad traffic to the 10th Street Corridor and to shift any design and construction funds then intended for the Third Street Corridor to the 10th Street Corridor.”

That’s the most important part of the deal, but people need to understand that even if the study says that the 10th Street corridor is the preferred alternative, that doesn’t guarantee the railroads and the federal government will go along.

“Having something that says we ought to go down 10th Street and being able to fund a 10th Street corridor are two totally different things,” said former Mayor Mike Houston, who is now chairman of the Greater Springfield of Commerce. Houston’s comments came after Springfield aldermen and the Sangamon County Board OK’d allowing Davlin and Van Meter to sign the agreement.

“We may think we’ve been in a real battle up to now, but we haven’t won the war. We’ve taken the first steps of what is going to be a multi-year, ongoing situation,” he said.

In fact, a lot can go wrong, and the agreement names five things specifically that would void the deal, including:

The environmental impact study says 10th Street is better, IDOT submits proposed amendments to its application, but the federal government says “no.”
The federal government grants IDOT’s application but declines to pay almost $358 million to consolidate the railroads on 10th Street and mitigate the effects of moving them there.
The state gets less than $1 billion of the $4.5 billion it was asking for high-speed rail.

If any of those things happen, state and city officials will be back at the negotiating table. That’s why local officials should continue to keep two tools on their tool belt:

Filing a lawsuit against the state attacking its study of the Third Street corridor as insufficient if IDOT goes forward with its current plan to designate Third Street as the high-speed rail route.
A bill introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan to bar IDOT from spending money on the Third Street corridor.

Overall, the parties have come a long way since this controversy erupted this past summer. We hope the spirit of cooperation and consensus continues.