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UISG endorses Chicago to Omaha rail line

BY NICK HASSETT | SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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A proposed rail line running from Chicago to Omaha would provide University of Iowa students yet another mode of transportation, and UI Student Government officials back the project.

After an in-depth debate on the floor of a UISG meeting Tuesday evening, the Senate passed a resolution endorsing a proposed rail line, 19-11, with eight senators abstaining.

The project proposes a route that would run from Chicago to Omaha, making a stop in Iowa City along the way.

The discussion about and vote on the resolution was prefaced by a presentation by Geoff Fruin, assistant to the Iowa City city manager, and Adam Bentley, an administrative assistant in the City Manager’s Office. The two city officials support the rail line.

“We believe a regional route can serve the state better than the current cross-country route,” Fruin said at the meeting in response to a question from one of the senators.

Bentley agreed. Citing a study conducted by the Iowa Department of Transportation, he listed what he saw as economic advantages for the city and state.

“For every public dollar put into this project, we see an estimated return of $1.80 in economic benefits,” Bentley said.

The estimated total cost of the project is $310 million, which is divided among Iowa, Illinois, and federal stimulus money allocated for infrastructure projects under the American Recovery and Reinvest Act of 2009. The state of Iowa is expected to have to pay $20 million for the project, and Iowa City’s expected contribution is $1.2 million.

However, the UISG student body was not in agreement about the project. Several senators voiced their concerns in the discussion session prior to the vote.

“These are numbers produced by a government agency for a government project,” UISG Senator Jerry Gao said. “We’ve seen a project like this in California, and it went way over budget.”

Several other senators had doubts about the rail line. They voiced concerns about the viability of the project, the cost to the state — both in initial investment and continued maintenance of the railroad — and the lack of any planned student rate for trains.

Proponents of the resolution said the rail line would reduce traffic, benefit the environment, and provide a convenient service to students.

Ultimately, the resolution to endorse the rail passed 19-11.

UI officials also endorse the rail line.

“The university supports the exploration of potential new public-transit options for our students that may provide convenient, affordable travel alternatives in communities across the state," UI spokesman Tom Moore wrote in an email.

The Chicago to Omaha line is being evaluated in an Environmental Impact Statement, according to the project’s website.

Though City Council officials believe support from UISG will help the project’s chances, it still needs to be approved in the state Legislature. There, Bentley expects it will face the greatest opposition.

“The political environment right now is very stagnant,” he said at the meeting.

Brad Neumann, the associate transportation director for Iowa City, said that while he’s not sure if the UISG endorsement will make an impact during the state legislative session, he’s looking forward to it.

“I’m not sure about the success of the project [in the Legislature], but I’m hopeful,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the legislative session in January.”


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