Set back for efforts to expand passenger rail line to Iowa City


May 18th, 2013 by Ric Hanson

Using federal money to extend passenger rail service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City is less likely due to votes taken in the Iowa House and Senate Friday. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, has been an advocate of expanding passenger rail service in Iowa. “It’s a set back,” McCoy says, “but not a fatal set back.” Senate Democrats wanted to set aside some of the state’s gambling taxes to fulfill the obligation to provide state matching funds for the project, but House Republicans rejected that proposal and a bill that passed both the House and Senate Friday did not include any money for passenger rail. McCoy says tens of millions in potential federal support is slipping away because the state’s not coming up with five-and-a-half million dollars in matching funds. “It is a set back for those folks who believe the $87 million is a missed opportunity if we don’t step up in some way,” McCoy says.

In October of 2010, Iowa and Illinois won a 230-million dollar federal grant to expand passenger rail service, with the ultimate goal of a 110-mile-per-hour train running between Chicago and Omaha. However, when Republican Governor Terry Branstad took office in 2011, he raised concerns the state would have to sink too much money into the rail line and the top Republican in the Iowa House has said it doesn’t make sense, financially, since there’s already a passenger train that runs through southern Iowa cities like Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa and Creston. Senator McCoy is still holding out hope of a last minute reprieve for the project. “We’re looking for the governor to exert leadership with this legislature and say that we’re still committed to passenger rail,” McCoy says. “…We think that there’s other options and available sources of funding if we decide to fully fund passenger rail…There’s still time.”

The 2013 legislature hasn’t adjourned for the year. All legislators are due back in the state capitol Tuesday. Republican Governor Terry Branstad submitted a budget proposal to legislators back in January which called for setting aside five-and-a-half million dollars in the Iowa D-O-T’s budget that would have met the state match for that federal funding of a Chicago to Omaha passenger rail line,.

(Radio Iowa)