Friday, May 22, 2009

Quinn wants high-speed rail for Illinois

By Hilary Russell

The capital plan that recently passed both chambers was missing something that Gov. Pat Quinn said would put Illinois on a path to a more progressive mode of transportation.

Quinn said it was an oversight for lawmakers not to include money for high-speed rail in the $26 billion infrastructure program. Of that, $1.5 billion was not yet earmarked. Quinn said in a Statehouse news conference this morning that he wanted at least a portion of the remaining money to go to high-speed rail.

The General Assembly has nine days to approve a second installment of the capital plan, as well as an operating budget and governmental reforms. “I think it’s important to understand that if we’re going to get this done, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves in the next week to make this happen,” Quinn said.

High-speed rail would address the economic, energy and environmental crises facing the state and the nation, said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association based in Chicago. It would create jobs, help reduce reliance on motor fuel and reduce air pollutants.

One reason Quinn and a large group of bipartisan legislators want money to be designated for high-speed rail is because it could capture a portion of the $8 billion federal stimulus money available to invest in such transportation. The stimulus package would provide an additional $5 billion in grants over the next five years to kick-start high-speed rail development. To capture a federal match, the state must contribute about $400 million to high-speed rail projects, according to Quinn’s administration.

The first route would travel from St. Louis to Chicago at speeds up to 110 mph. It is being touted as an affordable, environmental alternative to driving or flying with the luxury of shorter travel times.

Hannig said the transportation department has a first-of-its-kind agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to draft a blueprint of the Chicago-St.Louis route, which the team would take to Washington, D.C., as a model and a way to compete with other states for additional stimulus funds.

Chicago to St. Louis would be the first but not the last request, Hannig said. Other routes could include Chicago to Milwaukee, Cleveland and Des Moines.

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