Will Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker reignite the push to bring rail to Rockford?

ROCKFORD (WREX) – It’s a promise Rockfordians have heard time and time again, only to have the promise broken.  It’s the promise of passenger rail service in the city.

In spring of 2014 then Governor Pat Quinn visited Rockford to announce a $223 million state investment to bring Amtrak service to the city. But less than a year later, that promise was derailed when Governor Bruce Rauner put the project on hold to fix the state’s troubled finances. Now Illinois anticipates a change in the Governor’s office and another shot at passenger rail.

“Senator Dick Durbin says he hasn’t heard from the governor about anything the state of Illinois might need from the federal government and I intend to change that,” says Govenor-elect Pritzker.

While Pritzker has not announced an official commitment to the project, he’s repeatedly stressed a desire to improve the state’s travel infrastructure.

“Remember that’s not just something that comes from the state government,” says Pritzker. “We also need to work with our federal government to bring those dollars to bare here.”

One of those federal partners who’s been a vocal supporter of the project for years is Senate Minority Whip, US Senator Dick Durbin.

“I plan on going to him with Congressman Bustos and Senator Duckworth and making a plea this project continues to be on the table and move forward,” says Durbin.

Durbin says he started the serious conversation for rail about a decade ago and says he needs a commitment from the state to help subsidize the project.

“Take a look at the tollway between Rockford and Chicago and you know what’s happening,” says Durbin. “There’s tremendous expansion, economic activity. We want to make sure that corridor between Rockford and Chicago becomes a corridor of the strongest economic growth in our region or our state.”

Joining Durbin’s enthusiasm is US Senator Tammy Duckworth, who believes rail will also increase the attractiveness of Rockford’s airport to travelers.

“I think it’s necessary,” says Duckworth. “I think it would bring tremendous development into the region. I think it would make Rockford airport a very viable alternative airport.”

While Duckworth and Durbin say the can make the case for funding in Washington, they’ll need state and local leaders to get on-board and support the push.  A push that may be more effective as a team.

“Right now Huntley is pushing for Metra service to be extended out there,” says Midwest Highspeed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish.  “If Rockford, Belvidere, Marengo, and Huntley were all to join together it would go much more quickly.”

Harnish says if Rockford wants rail, state and local leaders need to frequently push the governor’s office to make it happen.  If they’re successful, Harnish says it’s a project that can be completed swiftly.

“Once you’ve got all the agreements in place, it’s a pretty quick process. It should be able to get rail to Rockford within two or three years once there’s a decision to actually do it.”

 

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden

Investigative Reporter

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