By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
A total of $686 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will fund 15 grants for 28 rail stations across nine states – including Illinois – to make rail stations doable for those with a physical disability.
The All Stations Accessibility Program is designed to improve the accessibility of transit rail stations, many of which were built decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in July 1990.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) made the announcement with Federal Transit Agency Administrator Nuria Fernandez on Dec. 19.
The nine states receiving grant dollars under this latest IIJA allotment are: Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.
New elevators, ramps and platform adjustments to close gaps and allow level boarding are examples of the construction work that will bring the targeted legacy stations into compliance with ADA law. At the Dec. 19 virtual press session, Duckworth – a double amputee and former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs when her helicopter was downed in 2004 by Iraqi insurgents – championed the nationwide transit agency funding initiative, ASAP for short, after seeing Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system making efforts to amass enough capital to make its stations accessible to all.
“In Washington D.C. I can make my way (using public transportation) about 80 percent of the time, but not in Chicago,” Duckworth said. “The Chicago L (elevated train) is not accessible. Neither is the subway in New York or Boston. Local rail agencies have had to prioritize safety over accessibility for years due to limited funding streams. But now the funding is in place to make this happen.”
Buttigieg said the additional wheelchair ramps, elevators and more will not only make mass transit a reality for disabled individuals but will also increase accessibility for those who push strollers, transport large musical instruments and others who for many reasons cannot navigate stairs easily.
More than 900 transit legacy stations – those built prior to the ADA legislation 32 years ago – are still not fully accessible today. The ASAP initiative provides support for transition agencies to repair, improve, modify, retrofit or relocate station elements or facilities for passenger use.
Chicago Transit Authority will receive $118 million of the $686 million grant funding. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority will get $254 million, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Agency will receive $56 million.