Iowa leaders raise doubts about continuing Chicago-Iowa City passenger rail work

July 16, 2015

Rail cars on order, but Illinois faces budget problems

IOWA CITY — Iowa transportation leaders are questioning the public investment of time and money in an increasingly uphill effort to bring passenger rail between Chicago, the Quad Cities and Iowa City.

A $6.21 million study of preliminary engineering and environmental impact is underway through the Iowa Department of Transportation. And the Midwest Equipment Pool, of which Iowa DOT is a member, has ordered dozens of rail cars and locomotives for the proposed service, agency leaders said this week.

The money has already been allocated with most coming from federal grants, they said.

“I am a fan of passenger rail, but I do not want to see an expenditure of funds for a system that ultimately cannot reach Chicago due to Illinois’ budget constraints,” said Iowa Transportation Commissioner Amy Reasner, a Cedar Rapids lawyer.

The passenger rail project was gaining steam earlier this decade after a feasibility study, a $230 million federal transportation grant split between Iowa and Illinois and strong support from then-Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.

The tone has changed.

Current Gov. Terry Branstad has never been a proponent, what was once projected as an 80-20 federal-to-state/local cost split has virtually flipped and budget woes in Illinois cast doubt about the Chicago to Quad Cities leg, without which the Iowa portion makes little sense.

“What we are hearing is Illinois is on hold, and I think we all know Illinois is having budget problems, so does it make sense to continue moving forward with the hope” Illinois will come through? Reasner said at a commission meeting Tuesday in Ames.

 

Read the full story from reporter B.A. Morelli of The Gazette by clicking here.

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