Friday, April 29, 2016

Rockford area planning group mulls massive rail project

  • By Brian Leaf
    Staff writer

    Posted Apr 28, 2016 at 5:25 PM
    Updated Apr 28, 2016 at 7:27 PM

    ROCKFORD — A proposed route for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad might not be finalized until 2019. But the region's planning agency has until June 15 to let the federal Surface Transportation Board know where it stands on the $8 billion rail freight project.
    Today, policymakers on the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning, or RMAP, decided to wait at least a month before taking a stand. RMAP is the Metropolitan Planning Agency for Winnebago and Boone counties.
    "It is very tough to set policy and make a decision on something that you aren't really sure what it will be until three years later," said Mike Dunn Jr., RMAP's executive director.
    "What I have been told is that these letters do matter."
    Investors in the private railroad project are pitching a 275-mile rail loop from southern Wisconsin to northwest Indiana that would bypass Chicago and provide faster coast-to-coast shipments of freight.
    A proposed route would cut through the farmland of western Boone County, where landowners have objected. Rock County, Wisconsin, landowners also have expressed opposition to the plan and refer to their efforts as Rock Against the Rail.
    Several members of RMAP's Policy Committee said they want a route that connects Chicago Rockford International Airport because it could bring a boom in transportation-related jobs.
    Here's what officials said today during a meeting at the Winnebago County Administration Building.
    Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain: "I'm all in favor of this enhancing the airport and connecting to Rochelle. I am personally not in favor of the route that's proposed through Boone County because it does not lead to any significant economic development growth that makes sense to us. The route that is going through is prime farmland that produces some of the highest economic return in the region in terms of agriculture. So, generally I like the concept of this. Specifically, I don't like the route."
    Scott Christiansen, Winnebago County Board chairman: "Clearly, no one knows exactly where it's going to end up when it is all said and done. We were never going to vote on it today. We needed discussion on this. I don't know if we ever will because we have no official authority in this anyway."
    Darryl Linderg, Loves Park Mayor: "As far as the concept, it's something I think we need to support. But it's my understanding, too, that the federal government is going to decide this no matter what, whether we're for this, against this, sideways, whatever ... because obviously with a project this size they're going to listen to everyone along the route. But if they were going to let all the decisions be made on a local level it would never get done."
    • Bob Walberg, Boone County Board chairman: "Our environment is not the waters and little critters. We are the environment. The whole community is our environment. ... They're going to consider the things offered by our community for our environment. It could be, like Mayor Chamberlain talked about, that our environment is a lot of century farms and our comprehensive plan. They thought about it for two whole months but we thought about it for 20 years. We want to preserve our agriculture."
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