Councilors consider local support for IC-Chicago rail


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Following Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to not allocate state funds at this time for an Iowa City-Chicago passenger rail service, Iowa City will likely need to come up with roughly $400,000 to make it happen.

Last week, the Department of Transportation asked the City Council to authorize a letter to the Governor’s Office agreeing to consider local support for the operational costs of the railroad.

At Monday’s City Council work session, all the councilors supported the idea of looking into finding local financial support for the rail, but they did not commit themselves to any set amount.

John Yapp, a city transportation planner, said Branstad’s office ordered the DOT to find local interest in supporting the plan. Iowa City’s projected $300,000 to $400,000 contribution is reasonable, he said.

“That’s actually a very good number, compared with what it could have been,” Yapp said.

Though the rail service wouldn’t be built for the next five to six years, Councilor Connie Champion said she thinks the letter is a good idea.

“Any letter that you write that encourages them to continue this would be great,” Champion told the DOT representatives.

The cost of the rail service is projected to be $310 million between Iowa and Illinois. Iowa’s cost is split among the state government, the federal government, and the local government. Illinois isn’t planning on imposing costs on local governments for the rail.

“This is typically a cost of the state,” said City Manager Tom Markus. “However, the governor has made it clear that it’s difficult to support [the rail] without local support.”

Councilor Mike Wright also said he wants Iowa City to get the train, and he supports looking into paying costs.

“All the subsidies we give to cars and gas, I wouldn’t mind a little going to trains,” he said.

Iowa City, as a host city for the rail, would foot the bill for such operational costs as fuel and service depot fees. Communities the rail travels through would also contribute, Yapp said.

The letter demonstrating local support is due at the DOT in March, said Brad Neumann, an assistant city transportation planner.

Markus said he supports the development of the rail because it will be a substantial investment in Iowa City’s downtown and to the university.

“I think the return of this investment is substantially greater for our community and our general area,” he said.

According to the Iowa Connections fact sheet, potential public and economic benefits of the rail range from job creation to pollution reduction to increased business activity.

The existing rail line only carries freight trains, but with passenger train enhancements, the train would travel at 79 mph, possibly increasing to 110 mph in the future.

“As a measure of austerity, [Branstad] wants us to participate,” Markus said.

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