In Iowa, Another Midwest HSR Plan in Jeopardy

Will Iowa join Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for passenger rail?

Republican state legislators recently introduced a budget proposal that does not include the matching funds that were supposed to be Iowa’s contribution to a high-speed rail line connecting its largest cities to Chicago. The federal government had committed $230 of the $310 million for lines in Illinois and Iowa through a TIGER grant. The state of Iowa had committed $10 million to the project.

A rendering of the Moline, Illinois station that would be part of the planned corridor from Chicago to Iowa. If Iowa legislators pull the plug on their state's commitment, this station would be the terminus. Image: Transportation for America

Some observers have downplayed the extent of the threat. But, drawing on lessons from recent train fiascoes in Midwest, Transportation for America, is sounding the alarm:

It’s imperative that the Iowa legislature and Governor Branstad follow through on their state’s commitment to build this valuable new service. Following the path of I-80 and I-88, it would hit all the major population centers of Iowa on it’s way to and from Chicago.

Where the story on this project differs from similar recent stories in Wisconsin and Ohio of grants going back to Washington is that this project spans two states for an interstate rail line. Illinois will be able to keep their share of the grant, which is larger since the bulk of the route spans their state, but what will happen to the route? Will it simply stop at the border at the new Moline multimodal hub? What about the future of a Omaha/Des Moines/Iowa City connection to Chicago? Will it bypass important Iowa cities?

The legislative session hasn’t started yet, so it may be premature to jump to any conclusions yet as the Iowa Chamber said, but as the recent cuts in Wisconsin and Ohio showed us, it’s important that these leaders hear from supporters early and often — long before a decision is made. And incoming Governor Terry Branstad has thus far pledged to keep the issue nonpartisan and examine the project fairly and honestly. He needs to be held to that promise.

Transportation for America is recommending Iowa residents contact their elected representatives.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington outlines a “social contract” for cyclists. And also in D.C., Wash Cycle tries to get a read on how the new mayoral administration of Vince Gray will affect the city’s progress on bike infrastructure.