A Time To Look Backwards – And Ahead

Preparing for the Groundbreaking, with Partner Railroad Locomotives in the Background

Anytime a year draws to a close, it is a time of reflection on the past and a time of looking towards the future. Of course, most of us do that on a personal level – remembering the good times of the year gone by and deciding on how we can improve ourselves for the year ahead. We can do that on a professional level as well. In this case, I would like to highlight one event in particular as an accomplishment that the entire Parsons organization can be proud of: The groundbreaking ceremony for the CREATE P3 project in Chicago, Illinois on October 25th, 2022.

Parsons’s Rendering of the proposed grade separation.

CREATE is an acronym that stands for “Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency”. The program will be 20 years old in 2023, and its goal is to improve the rail network in the Chicago region. Improvements in the Chicago region will have a ripple effect for the entire nation’s freight-moving efficiency. The program helps not only freight rail but also passenger rail, with significant benefits to both Amtrak and Metra (Chicago’s commuter rail agency). Beyond benefits to the railroads, many CREATE projects are aimed at solving street-level gridlock through the completion of grade-separation projects.

Rail Innovation
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker,
Cook County, Illinois Board President Toni Preckwinkle, U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

In 2019 Parsons was selected by CSX Transportation to complete the Phase II (Final) design of CREATE Project P3, which will result in elimination of an existing at-grade crossing between CSX and three other railroads: Norfolk Southern, Metra, and the Belt Railway of Chicago. The existing crossing, (or “diamonds”) are located near 75th Street and Western Avenue in Chicago. The CSX tracks will be elevated over the other railroads on a combination of retained-fill approach embankments and bridge spans, eliminating a significant rail choke point. The project will also result in a grade separation of CSX from 71st Street, so the project will benefit the motoring public as well.

Parsons was given a challenge on this project: Due to changes in railroad operations that occurred after completion of the Phase I (preliminary) design phase, CSX tasked the Parsons Team with revising the Phase I concept prior to starting the Phase II design. What’s more, the Parsons Team was asked to perform both of those tasks within the timeframe originally envisioned just for the Phase II design. The Parsons Team came through, and both tasks were completed on schedule in January of 2022. 

Amar Rajpurkar, Vice President – MidCentral Area Manager (Parsons)
Joseph Abruzzo, CREATE P3 Project Manager (Parsons)
Sarah Czaplicki, CREATE P3 Structural Lead (Czaplicki Lopez, PLLC)

Both the design and the construction were fully-funded through the same INFRA Grant, so the project was released for construction bids in March 2022. The construction bids came in within the available budget, and a contract was awarded to the successful bidder in June 2022.

Because of the significance of the project, the groundbreaking ceremony was attended by a “who’s who” of local and national politicians.

Once the politicians completed their photo opportunity, the Parsons Team was able to pose for a photo:

At the beginning of this blog I discussed that the turning of the new year is a time for looking both backwards and forwards. So far we have just looked backwards on the past year’s accomplishments, so now it is time to look forwards: Parsons was selected by Norfolk Southern to complete the final design of two of the four packages for the CREATE EW2 project. CREATE EW2 is a follow-on project to the P3 project that Parsons just finished, so we have another opportunity to prove our mettle on another high-profile rail project. So, 2023 looks like another exciting, busy year for Parsons’s rail design team, and I for one am looking forward to it!

About The Author

Joseph Abruzzo is Parsons’ Rail Bridge Practice Lead. He has been involved in the design of heavy-rail bridges for Class I, commuter, and short-line railroads since 1995 and has been part of the Parsons team since 2016.

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