By Angela Eikenberry
Serviceable and frequent passenger rail between Chicago and Council Bluffs is a real possibility in the near future. This is the one of the main things I took away from our transportation coffee chat with Will Sharp, HDR consultant working with the Iowa Department of Transportation on the Chicago to Council Bluffs-Omaha Regional Passenger Rail System Planning Study. But, if we want this service to make it to Council Bluffs (and eventually Omaha), we need to let Omaha and Council Bluffs-area elected and business leaders know.
According to Mr. Sharp, there has been a lot of public interest in the rail study. Over 1,500 surveys have been completed by the public (online and mail in formats) and there have been thousands of hits on the study’s website. About 90% of respondents have been supportive of passenger rail. The primary groups interested in passenger rail seem to be people not comfortable flying or driving (who really likes to fly any longer?), students, and business travelers who want connectivity to the mega-region of Chicago.
It appears that things are looking good for getting funding into place for the Chicago to Iowa City portion of the proposed service. The main concern expressed by elected officials has been related to ongoing subsidies, estimated at $3 million a year. Cities in this segment of the service have already agreed to cover half of the ongoing costs because they see the economic development and other benefits of having this service. In addition, a Benefit-Cost Analysis of the Chicago-Iowa City High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program found the Chicago to Iowa City benefit to cost ratio was estimated to be 1.70. That is, at a 7% discount rate, a $386.2 million investment (capital and O&M) results in fully $656.7 million of benefits.
While the Des Moines Downtown Community Alliance has been active in advocating for the passenger rail segment between Iowa City and Des Moines, there has not been an equivalent advocacy group active in Council Bluffs/Omaha. Our best bet for a service terminus right now is Council Bluffs because while there is interest in Omaha and Lincoln as a terminus there has been little to no interest from the State of Nebraska. Also, the cost of getting passenger rail into Omaha would also be very costly, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs.
So, if you’re interested in getting viable passenger rail service close to Omaha, you need to let Omaha and Council Bluffs elected and business leaders know that you want it. Contact Mayors Suttle and Hanafan, and the Omaha or Council Bluffs Chambers of Commerce as well as members of the Iowa Legislature to express your support.
You can also follow All Aboard for Iowa on Facebook. They are organizing an event in Council Bluffs for January 31, starting at 1:00pm at the Bayliss Park Hall at 530 1st Avenue. There will be a presentation featuring speakers Patricia Quinn, Executive Director of Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Geoff Fruin, Iowa City Assistant Manager and formally with the City of Normal, who will talk about the economic benefits of passenger rail. More information is available at: http://allaboardforiowa.com.
Our next coffee chat will be February 22, 2013 at 8:00 AM at 13th Street Coffee & Tea.