Iowa lawmakers push for rail projects - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa lawmakers push for rail projects

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - Lawmakers from Eastern Iowa are digging in to grab federal money for the proposed passenger train that would connect Iowa City to Chicago. They hope to accomplish that, in part, with a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday.

After the federal government announced $8 billion for intercity rail projects, Iowa lawmakers are working to get a large chunk of that. U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack thinks Eastern Iowa in particular has a good shot.

"I think we can make a really strong case," said Loebsack in an interview Sunday. "We've got a pretty good population center in the Quad Cities, obviously, and then in Iowa City, and that doesn't include just Iowa City, it includes Cedar Rapids as well. We also have over 5,000 Illinois students at the University of Iowa, and clearly that's very important as far as potential use of this service."

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Loebsack cites strong cooperation between the states of Iowa and Illinois, as well as excitement from his constituents about the project. Loebsack joined Congressman Bruce Braley, as well as congressmen Phil Hare and Bill Foster of Illinois, in writing the letter. It included numbers from a 2008 Amtrak study, boasting an estimated 187,000 people would ride the Iowa City-to-Chicago route annually.

"Transportation Secretary Lahood, a former Illinois congressman, understands the situation and what it can do for the economies of these communities," Loebsack explained.

Despite some critics, Loebsack is optimistic that the train would see plenty of passengers.

"I think there are a lot of folks who would definitely like the convenience of it, of starting in Iowa City and finishing up in downtown Chicago. They wouldnt have to drive their car...to go in for shopping or tourist events."

Now comes the wait for the rail stimulus dollars; no word on how long that could take.

The estimated cost of updating existing railroads for the 79-mile per hour trains will be about $33 million between Iowa City and the Quad Cities, and about $23 million for the stretch from the Quad Cities to Chicago.

Brady Smith - Online Reporter

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