U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley is calling on Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad to fund the state’s share of the cost of developing a high-speed rail connection between Iowa City through the Quad Cities to Chicago.
Iowa and Illinois have secured $230 million in federal funding for an Amtrak route between Chicago and Iowa City. The project now depends on Branstad and the Legislature fulfilling Iowa’s $20 million commitment to the project, according to Braley, whose district includes the Quad Cities.
He has written to Branstad as well as House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, urging them to include the funds in the fiscal 2012 budget “to stimulate Iowa’s economy and create jobs by funding the high-speed passenger rail line.”
Branstad and legislative Republicans have opposed the state funding for the project on philosophical and fiscal grounds. Funds for developing more passenger rail service came from the federal stimulus program, which Republicans generally oppose.
That’s because the state budget cannot afford the $20 million cost, according to Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“Some of our members look at this as an opportunity not only to save $20 million at the state level, but $230 million at the federal level,” he said.
House Republicans also question whether providing passenger rail is a core function of government, Wagner said.
Senate Democrats have included $2 million in their Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget for the passenger rail revolving loan fund and intent language to appropriate $6.5 million a year for three years toward the state’s share of the cost. House Republicans have stripped that funding.
“Now is not the time for timid policies and small politics,” Braley, a Waterloo Democrat wrote. “Unfortunately, politics are standing in the way of an investment that would create hundreds of Iowa jobs and stimulate our economy.”
Wagner said the state has been told the funds aren’t necessary until fiscal 2015, so the issue could be revisited.
However, Tammy Nicholson of the Iowa Department of Transportation said it could be a problem if there is no “significant match” in the 2012 and 2013 budgets. The first two years of the project involve design and environmental impact studies. The next two years, 2014 and 2015 would involve most of the construction and implementation of service.
“We need matching funds as we go along to cash-flow the project costs,” she said.
The project would create 588 jobs per year for the first four years of design and construction, Braley said. Once initiated, the new rail service is expected to increase business activity in the state by $25 million per year.
Communities along the line have worked with the DOT to develop a business plan to support the operation of the line, Nicholson said.
Braley announced a $268 million in funding for high-speed rail in five Midwestern states. This award allows for the purchase of 48 passenger rail cars and 7 locomotives for 8 corridors in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin. It includes funds for an Illinois to Dubuque line, said Alexandra Krasov, Braley’s spokeswoman.