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Branstad derails IC-Chicago rail funding

BY RYAN COLE | JANUARY 27, 2011 7:10 AM

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Gov. Terry Branstad will not allocate funds for the Iowa City-Chicago railway in the near future, the governor’s communications director, Tim Albrecht, said Wednesday.

Branstad said at a press conference Wednesday that he is skeptical of the project during tough economic times, but did not rule out allocating funds in the future.

“There’s no time constraint,” Albrecht said, adding there is “no immediate need” for the state to contribute the remaining funds now.

He stressed the possibility of interstate railway plans coming to fruition at a later date.

The federal government has pledged $230 million for the $310 million project. Iowa would have to contribute $20 million to the project in addition to $45 million from Illinois.

Despite the apparent setback, Kelly McCann, director of communications for the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, remained optimistic about the project.

“Rail remains viable because of the money legislators appropriated last year,” she said.

McCann distinguished Iowa’s circumstance from other proposed railway plans that were pulled after governors failed to give support.

“Unlike Ohio and Wisconsin, Gov. Branstad is still considering rail [in the long-term future],” she said.

It remains unclear what would happen to the federal funds if the rail wasn’t built immediately.

In December, the Obama administration rerouted $1.195 billion in federal funding from Ohio and Wisconsin after governors in both states indicated their respective rail projects would not be moving forward. Iowa was a beneficiary of the re-directed funds.

Now, some Iowa City city councilors said they’re losing hope after seeing so much hesistation from the governor.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Councilor Connie Champion. “I think it’s a big mistake.”

Champion said she wished the governor would put as much investment into public transit systems as there has been in roads and highways, calling this decision “a major stumbling block … to the future of public transportation.”

Councilor Terry Dickens was equally pessimistic about the decision and its potentially negative impact.

“I think it’s really going to hurt all of eastern Iowa and all the state eventually,” he said. “It would have been a great economic boon in the whole area.”

Dickens said he intended to ride the rail, echoing student enthusiasm for the project.

“I usually go [to Chicago] for concerts and shows,” said University of Iowa senior Cathy Dix, adding that she would travel more often with a public rail system.

In a press conference Monday, Branstad spoke about the state’s difficult economic times.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions … so that we can [have] a sustainable budget and [so] that we can meet our commitments in providing services for the people of Iowa in the long term,” he said in the press conference.

The governor will deliver a budget address today, outlining state spending plans for the next two years. It is not clear whether Branstad will address funding for the rail service.


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