U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos brought home the bacon, but Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner would rather watch it rot.
A hugely important Amtrak expansion that would reinstate passenger service between the Quad-Cities and Chicago is suddenly in doubt due to years of state inaction. The federal funds are still available, in no small part to the two-term Democrat’s work on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But Gov. Bruce Rauner’s freeze on state funds, amid the budgetary turmoil, could doom the project.
The economically significant rail expansion could be out $177 million in federal cash if the June 30 sunset comes and goes unless Illinois releases some of its $78 million share.
“As you know, the federal government has already provided an extension for the state to take advantage of the funds for this project,” Bustos, D-East Moline, wrote Wednesday in a blunt letter to the Republican governor. “… For the sake of our transportation system and economy, I hope you will not allow these funds to expire without bringing their benefit to bear in the state of Illinois.”
Rauner faces an immovable force among legislative leaders. Years of spineless neglect and massive budget deficits greeted him at the Governor’s mansion, and it’s easy for a Democratic federal official to take potshots at a freshman Republican governor.
But Rauner’s funding freeze lumps worthy projects — particularly the Quad-Cities passenger rail buildout — in with political gifts, like the proposed Illiana Expressway that was a politically motivated boondoggle. Former Gov. Pat Quinn was more concerned with shoring up support in central Illinois than good policy when he pushed that now-shelved interstate. Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for billions, funding a highway to nowhere that would most benefit Indiana.
The widely criticized Illiana project propelled Rauner’s freeze on “unnecessary” infrastructure funding. The Amtrak expansion appears an innocent bystander.
Bustos correctly notes that the Quad-Cities is an economic and transportation hub. That fact is woven into the fiber of the river-side region’s identity.
Transportation options are a quality-of-life issue, a standard metric when new business eyes a potential location.
Rauner’s staff says they’re reviewing the many shelved projects. They claim the passenger rail expansion hasn’t been forgotten. And, surely, the administration has grappled with more pressing issues, such as higher education funding. The state pension continues to milk cash from state coffers.
Quinn’s administration made promises it couldn’t keep. Rauner’s across-the-board freeze now threatens a rail project that could transform the Quad-Cities position within the greater Midwestern economy. At the very least, it could substantially improve accessibility to the region’s financial and cultural hub.
Federal officials have waited six years for the state to hold up its end. Moline and area developers, banking on promises made years ago, are dumping cash into a shiny new train station. And Illinois faces a deadline. The federal cash could easily go elsewhere.
Everyone else is holding up their end of the bargain. Illinois should, for once, honor its portion of the deal.
Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.
Quad-City Times editorial board