Monday, September 28, 2009

Environmental assessment for Chicago-Iowa City passenger service

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The Iowa Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Transportation, is seeking public input concerning the environmental assessment of proposed routes for intercity passenger rail service between Iowa City and Chicago. Released for public review on Sept. 25, the EA will be presented and discussed at a public input meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29, in Moline, Ill.

The EA was published on Sept. 25, and is available for a 21-day public review and comment period. The document can be accessed on the project Web site and at local libraries in Davenport and Iowa City, Iowa, and Geneseo, Princeton, Mendota, Plano, Naperville, La Grange, Joliet, Morris, La Salle and Chicago, Illinois. All comments are due by October 15, 2009.

The EA, which will also be available at the public meeting for public review and comment, includes information evaluating the proposed routes and the potential impacts on the human, natural and economic environments along the corridors.

As part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, the Iowa and Illinois DOTs, in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration, have been evaluating specific alternative routes to establish passenger rail connections between Chicago and Iowa City. These new rail connections would help increase regional mobility, reduce roadway congestion and meet future travel demands.

The proposed alternatives are currently undergoing a thorough environmental assessment to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and help qualify the planning effort for federal grant funding from the FRA and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The two proposed routes would make use of existing freight and passenger rail lines. From Union Station in Chicago, the northern route (Alternative A) would travel west along the existing BNSF line, which already serves Amtrak, passing through Naperville, Plano, Mendota, and Princeton before connecting to the Iowa Interstate Railroad at Wyanet.

The southern route (Alternative B) would follow the Metra line from Union Station to Joliet, and then continue on to Morris and LaSalle on what is known as the CSXT rail line, which currently moves freight. Like Alternative A, this route would connect to the IAIS at Wyanet. Both routes would then travel west to Geneseo, the Quad Cities and Iowa City. New Amtrak stations would be established at these last three destinations and, if Alternative B is selected, new stations would also be established at Morris and LaSalle. Initial service would begin with four trains per day (two round trips) at peak speeds of 79 mph.

The existing railroads that will be used to provide this new passenger service originally carried both passengers and freight, dating back to the 1860s. Between the 1950s and 1970s, rail passenger service declined dramatically, and most of the passenger-carrying operations were eventually terminated. However, one segment between Chicago and Naperville has been providing regular commuter rail service since 1863.

The American Association of Railroads estimates that every dollar spent on investment in our nation's railroads - including tracks, equipment, locomotives, and bridges - yields $3 in economic output. In addition, each $1 billion of rail investment creates 20,000 jobs.

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