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Officials anxiously await decision on IC-Chicago railway

BY RYAN COLE | JANUARY 26, 2011 7:10 AM

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With $230 million in federal funding hanging in the balance, Governor Terry Branstad is exploring his options to acquire the additional $80 million needed for the Iowa City-Chicago passenger railway project.

Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director, said there was no deadline for the decision, but some city officials said they think — and hope — the governor will make an announcement soon.

“I think on Wednesday we’ll have an answer,” said council member Connie Champion.

Representatives from the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce met with Branstad Tuesday to discuss the project, which is expected to bring Iowa $6.76 million of ongoing new business revenue per year for the next 30 years.

“Hopefully Thursday we’ll have more details to share after Governor Branstad’s budget announcement,” said Kelly McCann, director of communications for the Chamber of Commerce.

Albrecht said the governor is looking at possibilities besides a tax subsidy to fund the railway.

“That’s part of the information-gathering and review process,” he said.

Branstad is “definitely” considering alternatives to increasing taxes, Albrecht said, adding the governor is “looking at local entities and others” to bridge the gap.

Iowa would have to contribute $20 million, in addition to a $230 million federal grant and $45 million from Illinois.

Council members were generally in consensus regarding the benefits of the railway.

“I think it’s a good project,” said council member Susan Mims, emphasizing energy efficiency and environmental responsibility as positive effects of mass transit.

Council Member Regenia Bailey said she believed tourism and commercial development would make the railway worth the investment.

“This [is] an innovative way to bring business and visitors to Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and Iowa,” she said.

Bailey added the proposed railway is “a critical part of the Riverfront Crossing development,” the area roughly surrounding the North Wastewater Treatment Plant along the Iowa River. Extensive flood damage in 2008 expedited existing plans for renovation and reconstruction.

University of Iowa students were generally enthusiastic about alternative transportation to and from Chicago.

“There’s a lot more entertainment there,” said senior Sharelle Allamand, adding that she would travel more if she didn’t have to drive.

Graduate student Brian Penkrot and his wife are expecting a daughter. Penkrot, a Chicago native, said it will be difficult for his wife and daughter to drive there to see his parents.

“If there were a train, that would probably be different,” Penkrot said. “I think a rail would be really convenient.”

Bailey stressed the urgency of the project, and said it was “now or never.” She said this would probably be the most federal funding Iowa receives for a long time.

Though students and city officials share excitement about a potential railway, doubt tempers overwhelming optimism.

“I don’t think [the state] is going to put the money in,” said Champion. “It doesn’t sound promising.”


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