Mayor Insists Proposed Amtrak Route Still Alive

Rockford, Ill., Mayor Larry Morrissey insists that the proposed Amtrak service to his city isn’t dead even as another public official said no new service was coming to the state.

Speaking with city officials by his side, Morrissey said the funds to build the rail line have been available since 2009.

At a recent public hearing, more than 150 people heard local elected officials, business leaders, and others demand that the state continue with the $223 million project to Amtrak service to Rockford by the end of 2015. State Sen. Steve Stadelman of Rockford scheduled the hearing Gov. Bruce Rauner put the Rockford service project on hold.

The elected officials attending the hearing listened and asked questions of the more than 20 witnesses who testified at the three-hour hearing. Many argued that a delay or cancellation would jeopardize economic stimulus benefits.

“The investment we’re talking about has an equally important impact on freight rail and our ability to attract industry,” said Morrissey.

The Illinois Department of transportation had been overseeing the upgrading of track between Rockford and Belvedere from 10 mph to 79 mph.

Morrissey noted that plans were already underway to rejuvenate the downtown area with a $24 million sports facility, a 75-room boutique hotel, and a $60 million, 150-room hotel and conference center complex.

The mayor noted that all of those projects would “have a direct connection to the train platform.”

“Without economic development of a major nature we’ll keep wallowing in (budget and employment) problems that the state has,” said Belvedere Mayor Mike Chamberlain.

Huntley Mayor Charles Sass said his village had already spent $4 million on planning for a downtown station and was poised to start construction.

IDOT Deputy Director John Oimoen said the project’s environmental studies are nearly finished and detailed engineering that would determine specific improvements and operating costs is between 15 and 20 percent complete.

One of the most impassioned argument for the Rockford service came from businesswoman Angela Fellars, the owner of a digital marketing and technology agency.

“The opportunity cost of not being able to work on a train between here and Chicago is costing me $400 a day in wasted work time spent driving. I’m angry that we even have to debate why this is a good idea,” she said. “Because I could spend some more time with my family, engage more in my community, volunteer more, and be a more active citizen. That’s why we need this train.”

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