$275 million set aside for Rockford passenger rail in state capital spending plan

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ROCKFORD (WREX) – Illinois lawmakers have approved a new capital spending plan for the state.  A line item breathes new hope into the future for rail in Rockford.

“By getting that $275 million in this capital plan I think it’s a new lease of life on this project,” says State Senator Steve Stadelman.

$275 million is earmarked for a Rockford passenger rail expansion.  This isn’t the first time Springfield has promised rail. In 2014, then Governor Pat Quinn announced a $223 million investment to bring Amtrak to the city. Less than a year later, that promise was derailed when former Governor Bruce Rauner put the project on hold to fix the state’s finances. But Senator Steve Stadelman says this time, it’s different.

“In the 2009 capital bill it was just lump sum for passenger rail service,” says Stadelman.  “What this capital plan does is it mentions Rockford rail service specifically. So it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when it comes together. It’s in as a line item so that’s reassuring people and advocates of this service.”

But there are others, like Representative John Cabello who say the plan is unrealistic.

“We can’t afford it! There’s no way the tax payers are going to be able to afford all that stuff,” says Cabello. “There’s no structural reforms, no property tax relief. All it is is tax tax tax, spend spend spend. I don’t know how that’s good for anyone that lives in the state.”

Regardless of where people stand on the issue, those close to the work say there’s a lot of moving pieces, which will take time for the project to move forward.

“Amtrak has told me they need to do another study in this region as far as demand for service, what it would look like,” says Stadelman. “I think it’s been close to 15 years since Amtrak last did a study.”

But to get the project off the ground quicker, Stadelman says the region needs to get on board and present a united front.

“This should be a priority for this area. We need every leader, transportation, elected official…to say this is what we need as a region and that will allow it to happen more quickly.”

In addition to passenger rail, the plan sets aside money for a variety of Rockford projects and attractions including Davis Park and the Barber Colman project.

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden

Investigative Reporter

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