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IC train decision nears

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | DECEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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An Iowa City official believes the upcoming legislative session marks the last opportunity for a proposed Chicago to Iowa City railway. Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager, wrote a letter to city officials that was included in the City Council’s information packet. Fruin said in his letter a delayed decision has caused an increase in Iowa’s capital costs for the project.

The state originally needed to match the federal funding by 20 percent, nearly $22 million.

However, now the number has jumped to $72 million. “The city of Iowa City will continue to advocate for the project, but it’s a state of Iowa decision,” said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager. “ Every year, the City Council adopts its legislative priorities, and the Passenger Rail Project has been a legislative priority for the past several years.”

The cost increase is due to a range of factors, which include inflation, changes in how the grant was structured and now the fact Iowa’s cost would exceed the original agreement with the federal government.  When it comes to the legislature, Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, has worked on a bipartisan bill for the Passenger Rail Project with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. Jacoby said this coming session will be “do or die” in order for the project to receive federal funding.

“Hopefully, we’ll get it through this year, but right now I would put the odds at 50/50,” he said. “but I’m a little more optimistic than others.” Locally, Jacoby said, the rail system could benefit the economy and access to the area.

“Obviously, we’re a booming area, but it would further increase economic development and tourisms,” he said. “I think it would draw a lot of young entrepreneurs to Iowa.” However, critics such as Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, oppose the project. He said he has not been in favor of the project in previous years, and he is doubtful whether the project will pass during the upcoming session.

“If there hasn’t been the support there last year, or the year before, or the year before that, I don’t think anybody has been able to convince the majority of the House that this is a project worthy of taxpayer dollars on an ongoing basis,” he said. Proponents of the plan, Baltimore said, have not proved the self-sustainability of the project, and he contended that the system would likely not generate enough money to fully support itself. 

In contrast, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan did not see this as a drawback to the plan.

“That argument is ridiculous because no road supports itself without taxpayer dollars, either,” Sullivan said. “No form of transportation is unsubsidized.”

The benefits of the Passenger Rail Project, he said, would be a great economic development for Iowa. The increased access between Iowa City and Chicago, he said, would benefit locals traveling to Chicago for work as well as students from Illinois. “My daughter goes to school in Macomb, where they have a passenger rail to Chicago,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of people at that school from the Chicago area, they ride that train like crazy, and I’m sure the same thing would happen here.”


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