Supporters of a proposed passenger rail line connecting Iowa City, the Quad Cities and Chicago say they’re still committed to the project, despite an apparent setback last week. Governor Branstad made no mention of the rail service in his budget plans presented to the legislature.
Paul Rumler, with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, says he’s confident the legislature will still provide $20 million in startup funds – but no continued funding. “The main direction that Governor Branstad has his concerns (with) is the operating agreement that would be required – approximately $3 million annually. That’s where we’re looking for alternative sources of payment,” Rumler said.
The ongoing subsidy of the rail line is required as part of a $230 million federal grant to Iowa and Illinois. The project’s total cost is around $310 million. Nancy Quellhorst, President and CEO of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, says the $3 million yearly contributions won’t be required until closer to the 2015 start date.
“The good news is that we have several years to work this out. This isn’t money that we need right away,” Quellhorst said. “So we have time to work on this, study what other communities are doing, study what other states have done and determine ways they’ve been able to fund this.”
Branstad has expressed skepticism about the rail line’s projected ridership and job creation potential. The Iowa Legislature appropriated $11.5 million toward the project last year, but House Republicans have included that spending in their budget-cutting plans.