Iowa passenger rail development would have statewide benefit, proponents say

Not an investment Gov. Branstad wants to make

It’s not a Quad Cities project, not an Iowa City project, but a project that will benefit all Iowa, passenger rail enthusiasts stressed while lobbying at the Capitol Monday.

“What we do know about passenger rail is that it would be a boon to the state of Iowa, the University of Iowa, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and most importantly, to the people of Iowa,” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said during a panel discussion of plans to improve passenger rail service in Iowa.

Improving a rail corridor from Council Bluffs to the Quad Cities also would benefit freight rail service, creating a “safer more reliable transportation system,” McCoy said.

“For a state like Iowa that depends so heavily on exports and exporting our goods to market, this is such a critical link … not to mention the huge opportunity to relieve what is an already congested I-80 system,” McCoy said.

He and Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, are urging the Legislature to take advantage of $87 million in federal funds to help develop the rail corridor. It would require an investment of about $3 million a year in the form of an operating subsidy.

That’s not an investment Gov. Terry Branstad is willing to make, his spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said March 18.

“Why should the taxpayers of Lyon County be asked to fund an Iowa City to Chicago passenger rail link?” he said. Taxpayer support for other modes of transportation – highways and airports, for example –is appropriate because they are more widely available than passenger rail, Albrecht explained.

However, Branstad has agreed to a $5 million appropriation from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund dedicated to “intermodal transportation opportunities in Iowa,” McCoy said.

Geoff Fruiin, an assistant to the city manager of Iowa City, said the governor shouldn’t think of the $3 million annual cost as a passenger rail operating subsidy, but an investment in economic development. He gained experience with developing passenger rail service in Normal, Ill., and said the economic benefits were “staggering."

There was more than $200 million in private business development in a six- to eight-block area of downtown and property values nearly doubled during, Fruiin said. Rail passenger numbers increased 220 percent to 250,000 riders a year.

“When you have thousands of people coming though your downtown because of passenger rail, it’s amazing the spillover effect it has,” he said.

The benefit wouldn’t be limited to those cities on the passenger rail corridor, Fruiin said. It’s an investment in the future.

“Tomorrow’s workforce is looking for these types connections,” he said. “It’s important that as a state we look at this as a statewide issue and consider the impacts of being involved and not being involved.”Comments:  (319) 398-8375;