ROCHELLE – The city broke ground Friday on its $7 million rail expansion project that will bring Lee County into what could become one of the largest rail industrial parks in Illinois.
In the works for 12 years, the project is expected to open up more than 1,000 acres in Lee County to new development. It will include a 3-mile extension of the city’s rail system, a four-track rail bridge over John’s Creek and a loading yard built for moving goods that require more than one method of transportation.
The ceremony was held at 1951 Steward Road, near the Coated Sand Solutions plant.
The city and the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corp. started building its own rail system in 1986. It connects local industries to the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the nation’s largest railroads.
The city has continuously expanded the rail system along interstates 88 and 39. The infrastructure has been a big incentive for attracting 14 businesses to the area, creating more than 1,200 jobs and adding millions of dollars to the tax base.
Businesses that come into the expansion area would be annexed into the city of Rochelle, but Lee County would share the tax revenues
To fund the project, the city received a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and $2.58 million from the Illinois Department of Transportation. An additional $1 million came from the city.
“I think the grant collaboration on this project is important,” said state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who attended the ceremony. “This money came because of an agreement between local, state and federal government.”
Rochelle’s track record in bringing business to the area and creating jobs greatly enhances the chances for getting state and federal economic development money, Demmer said.
“Looking forward, the best chance we have to add business and jobs is by working together as a region,” Demmer said. “This is a physical example of what can happen when Lee and Ogle counties collaborate.”
“The project will be a catalyst for industrial development in the region for many years,” Rochelle Economic Development Director Jason Anderson said. Work is already underway for utilities upgrades needed to support an industrial park.
“We’re working on a $2 million water main project at Hayes and Steward roads and a new sewer line will be put down next spring,” Anderson said. “This opens access for business to move into Lee County.”
Separate contracts for each part of the expansion work, which will be done at the same time, have been awarded to three companies. A local firm, Martin Excavating of Oregon, was chosen to build the rail bridge.