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The Trump administration's fiscal year 2019 budget proposes canceling $53.4 million in passenger rail money, with the bulk of it likely coming from funds set aside for a connection between Iowa City and Moline, Ill.
The proposal hasn't become law yet. But if it does, it would mean the loss of a chunk of federal money that possibly could be used as a downpayment on construction.
'We are aware that the unspent money that we have not obligated is in the budget to be canceled,” Amanda Martin, freight and passenger policy coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation's rail office, said Thursday.
Martin said that, based on her calculations, about $47.7 million of the money proposed for cancellation is for the passenger rail link in Iowa.
Iowa City area officials still were learning about the proposal on Thursday.
'That is still a priority for us to get done, so this would be a concern,” said Ryan Sempf, director of government relations and public policy for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Iowa Department of Transportation had been working to get the project ready for construction, including moving forward with a $6.21 million study of preliminary engineering and environmental impact.
The Midwest Equipment Pool, of which Iowa DOT is a member, had ordered dozens of rail cars and locomotives for the proposed service.
The Iowa DOT had reported Iowa's match needed to release the federal grant had risen to $72 million, and some officials had begun anticipating the federal money being rescinded if the states didn't come up with the match soon.
The proposed cancellation of federal funding doesn't involve the Chicago to Moline part of the project, said Kelsea Gurski, an Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
In 2010, the federal government announced it had awarded $230 million for a passenger rail connection between Chicago and Iowa City.
At the time, rail enthusiasts in Iowa and Illinois heralded the announcement, and in the Quad Cities it represented success in a long effort to restore passenger service in the area for the first time in decades.
The project was divided into two pieces in 2011, however, when then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who was elected shortly after the award was announced, showed little interest because of funding concerns.
Illinois was allocated $177 million, and Iowa had about $53 million set aside.
In Iowa, preliminary engineering and environmental studies have been undertaken. Illinois still has not begun construction on the major part of the connection between the Quad Cities and Chicago. But the state has said it is committed to following through.
Joe Hand, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said Thursday Loebsack supported the project when funding was approved and would like to see it get done. But, he added, 'right now it's up to the state whether they want to take this money and do something with it.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds's budget doesn't have any money for passenger rail, though a spokesperson said Thursday the governor hasn't taken a position on expanded passenger rail service.
Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration said in an email Thursday the budget still is just a proposal, and 'Congress must formally act before FRA will cancel any funds.”
Earlier this week, the Trump administration proposed spending $200 billion over 10 years on an infrastructure plan. But it also would offset some of that investment with cuts in other domestic programs.
Gazette reporter B.A. Morelli contributed to this article.