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  • Sacred Conversations 2016

Retired judge Theodis Lewis named ombudsman for rail relocation

Newly named rail-relocation ombudsman Theodis Lewis has plenty of work ahead when it comes to land needed for east-side rail improvements, including consolidation of Third Street freight and passenger trains on the 10th Street tracks.

A spring update on the long-term plan estimated 120 east-side homes and 50 businesses would have to be moved. The relocation estimates include two underpasses on the 19th Street line.

Lewis, a retired associate judge, said at a news conference Monday that his primary responsibility would be to assure property owners understand their rights under federal rules for property acquisition.

“The taking of property by government is a very serious and awesome power,” Lewis said during the announcement at the Carpenter Street rail crossing. “There should be fairness on both sides and equality of treatment.”

Lewis has not yet signed a contract but would be paid $100 an hour, according to Sangamon County officials.

IDOT would pay for the position through a special county fund.

Carpenter underpass

Carpenter Street is the site of the first major rail-relocation construction. Work is expected to begin in August or September on an underpass between Ninth and 11th streets.

The crossing also is the site of the first business relocation. Benmar Sunrooms moved to 4051 W. Jefferson St. early this year to clear the way for the underpass construction. The city paid $345,000 from motor fuel taxes for the property.

Lewis said that while he still is gathering information, his job would be to serve as an independent voice in discussions between property owners and IDOT.

“I take it very seriously,” Lewis said. “People who know me know I intend to follow the tenets of the agreement.”

Creation of the ombudsman was part of a community-benefits agreement with the Faith Coalition for the Common Good of Springfield. The agreement was intended to assure jobs and other benefits for residents and businesses affected by rail relocation.

Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser selected Lewis under terms of the rail agreement. The state’s attorney’s office will pay Lewis from IDOT funds. Milhiser said he expects an agreement with Lewis to be signed within three weeks.

Milhiser, too, emphasized the ombudsman position would remain independent.

“It does not answer to the Illinois Department of Transportation. It does not answer to the county,” said Milhiser.

State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, was among those at Monday’s announcement to sign the community-benefits agreement.

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