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Illinois to spend $60 million on local Amtrak route

(The following story by Matt Williams appeared on the Rockford Register Star website on January 30, 2010.)

ROCKFORD, Ill. — It didn’t take long for the state to respond to the news that federal money would not be used for passenger rail in Rockford.

During a stop today at Chicago Rockford International Airport, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that $60 million in state capital funds will be used for an Amtrak route that will run from Chicago to Dubuque, Iowa, with a stop in Rockford.

Quinn, who was joined by several state and local officials, made the announcement just days after figures released by President Barack Obama’s administration showed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds would not be funneled to Rockford’s Amtrak project.

Work on the project could begin as early as this summer with hopes of service beginning by 2012.

The new service could bring as many as 2,000 new jobs, including 650 construction jobs, Quinn said.

“It’s very important that we make this happen,” Quinn said. “This area, as everyone knows, has had a lot of economic challenges. We are focused every day on jobs.”

With the project being funded with state money, there is a chance Belvidere could still be a part of the plans. Through the federal agreement, the route would have run through Genoa to get to Rockford, but talks will be reopened to determine the best option.

“We are going to work with our local leaders to determine what it is this region wants,” said Gary Hannig, Illinois Department of Transportation secretary. “We are going to hear you out and do what it is the locals wish.”

Boone County Board Chairman Bob Walberg was enthused at the chance to re-enter discussions.

“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air,” Walberg said. “I’m quite surprised because I didn’t know about it until he just said it. We certainly are going to present ourselves the best that we can.”

Rockford’s Amtrak station would most likely be located at the old South Main rail station, Mayor Larry Morrissey said. But it may have to be refurbished with city money.

“We know we have work that has to be done to make that usable,” Morrissey said.

Rockford Chamber of Commerce President Einar Forsman said he was optimistic about the Amtrak project despite having no federal backing.

“We did have an understanding that when they submitted this to the federal stimulus package that our money from the state was still set aside,” Forsman said. “(The announcement) just came a little quicker than we thought.”

Forsman said rail service will open up opportunities for businesses and could bring more people to live in Rockford.

“Over the long term, we think it will bring rooftops to our area,” he said. “They will centralize around rail stations for either working in Chicago or them coming out here.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

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