Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Midwest governors play catch-up with HSR advocates

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Eight governors from Midwest states announced a pact Monday to seek federal stimulus funds to establish a high speed rail network with Chicago as the hub. The Obama Administration in April identified such a network as one of 10 candidates eligible for a portion of $8 billion provided for high speed rail by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

In forming the pact, the governors, by accident or design, are mimicking ongoing efforts by the not-for-profit Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which since 1993 has advocated a Chicago-based high speed rail network with top speeds of 220 mph.

Governors from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio gathered in Chicago Monday at the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, signing a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly seek federal funds for HSR. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, also present, signed the MOU on behalf of his city. Other states in the group include Minnesota, Indiana, and Missouri; the governors from these three states signed the MOU prior to the meeting.

Said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, “We are determined to take full advantage of federal recovery funds and bring high speed rail to Illinois and the Midwest.” He added, "Today's agreement will help make our vision a reality."

The participants will establish a multistate steering group to coordinate the region's work associated with all ARRA applications. Such coordination could turn a potential liability—numerous state players—into a political asset if the group maintains its cohesion.

The governors and their allies envision an initial push to upgrade three routes to operate at top speeds of 110 mph: Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Madison, Wis., via Milwaukee; and Chicago-Pontiac, Mich., through Detroit. Amtrak currently covers those routes, save the link between Milwaukee and Madison, and between Detroit and Pontiac, with conventional short-distance services. Other routes, such as St. Louis-to-Kansas City, Mo., and Ohio’s “3C Corridor” linking Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, would be added to the high speed rail network in future years.