A $45 billion State of Illinois infrastructure bill allocates $500 million for a pair of passenger rail projects that would connect Chicago to the Quad Cities and Rockford.
And according to one rail advocacy agency, that could mean rail service from Chicago could eventually make its way to northeast Iowa.
“We want it to go all the way to Dubuque,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association. “It doesn’t mean there’s any specific plan for that.”
The Rebuild Illinois bill has passed both chambers of the Illinois Legislature and is awaiting a signature from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The bill includes $275 million to expand Amtrak rails between Chicago and Rockford. Another $225 million would be used to establish rail to the Quad Cities.
The infrastructure projects primarily will be funded through a planned increase to the state’s gas tax. Beginning July 1, the tax will double from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents per gallon.
Though funding does not yet exist for rail from Rockford to Dubuque, Harnish said “this is a really big first step.”
“If there was a bus waiting at the Rockford train station to connect you to Galena, East Dubuque and Dubuque, that becomes a very powerful first step,” he said.
Gerald Podraza, chairman of Illinois Citizens to Bring Back the Blackhawk, said passenger rail would be a huge economic boon to the area, and also has the potential to reduce traffic crashes.
“We’re looking to use the Amtrak service from Chicago to Dubuque multidimensionally,” he said.
Some Iowa investment will be imperative, according to Podraza.
“It would certainly be a huge, huge thing if we got the Iowa people in northeast Iowa on board and promoting this as a vehicle for continued economic growth in not only Dubuque, but northeast Iowa,” he said.
Harnish said passenger rail promotes stronger communities, financially and otherwise.
“We think that trains will lead to more sustainable finances at the local and state level and much healthier communities and families,” he said.
Amtrak routes of a similar distance cost $20 to $60 for a one-way ticket.