Gazette Editorial board’s Views: Public should have a say on new Great Lakes Basin rail plan
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
A substantial change in the proposed rail line route through Rock County should prompt the federal Surface Transportation Board to reopen the public comment period for this project.
The new route is almost 15 miles west of the original route and now affects a different set of residents and property owners. They deserve an opportunity to submit comments to the governing body conducting the environmental review of the proposal.
We support Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, in their call for both reopening the comment period and holding an additional public informational meeting during the comment period.
During the previous comment period, which ended July 15, the Surface Transportation Board received more than 3,500 comments. The original route would have started east of Milton, traveled south through Rock County and headed east of Clinton on its way into Illinois.
“Clearly, the public has serious concerns about the project,” Spreitzer and Ringhand wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to the Surface Transportation Board. “We believe more will voice their opinions if given the opportunity.”
Regardless of economic justifications for a new rail line, the route itself will encounter opposition wherever it lands. Few people want a railroad going near their backyards, and anyone living along the proposed new route will feel unfairly treated if not given a formal venue to voice their concerns.
The new route starts east of Milton, goes south but then jogs to the west, cutting between Janesville and Beloit before heading south into Illinois. It crosses County D, Highway 213 and Highway 81.
Rock Against the Rail has mounted a legal challenge locally, while groups along the proposed route from Wisconsin to Indiana are fighting similar battles. The developer, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, touts the project as way to bypass Chicago’s congested rail lines and efficiently move goods through the Midwest.
Many communities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana are trying to make sense of the amended route submitted last month by Great Lakes Basin Transportation. The old route was 281 miles. The new one is 260 miles.
Nearly 300 residents of Winnebago County, just south of Rock County’s border, attended a meeting Monday to express their anger with the amended route, according to news reports. The original proposal sent the rail line to Winnebago’s east, through Boone County, but the new route misses Boone County entirely.
With its new plan, Great Lakes Basin Transportation appears to have swapped one set of angry residents for another. Whether its new plan is better or worse than the original, that’s difficult to immediately say.
But we know many people are upset with the new proposal, and ignoring their complaints would only add to the pile of ill will already being directed at this project.