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USDOT commuter rail meeting encourages Normal and Peoria leaders

Thu, 24 Jan 2013 12:16:42 CST
By: Charlie Schlenker

The Mayor of Normal says he is encouraged at the reception given by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and two department heads to a pitch for a commuter rail project linking Peoria and Normal. Mayor Chris Koos met with LaHood this week in Washington and says it is the start of a long term process.

"Secretary LaHood was pretty candid to say that you kind of need to get in line on this one. There are a lot of people asking for the same thing. But, he is optimistic and he thinks it is a good platform."

Peoria and Twin Cities leaders want federal money to do a study looking at a larger market size than an earlier Amtrak study considered. Koos says a Peoria terminus as well as an East Peoria station could also enhance commuter rail prospects with stops in key locations.

"There will be stops projected in Morton that would get people to the logistics center there, stops in the Peoria metro station that would get people to Caterpillar world headquarters, and they plan the same kind of thing to get access to State Farm and Illinois State University."

Koos says Secretary LaHood was encouraging about the potential to link Peoria to the Chicago to Saint Louis rail service...

"High Speed Rail is not designed just to serve the communities on the corridor, but feeder lines into the corrider are equally as critical. With Peoria metro being close to half a million people without access to passenger rail except through Normal, he sees that as a viable connection."

Koos acknowledges major funding would probably not be available until the next Transportation bill in two years when deficit reduction efforts could complicate the issue.

"Its gotta be looked at through that lens, there is no question of that. But, deficit reduction doesn't mean we stop transportation infrastructure. And there are a lot of people in government right now that think we need to be robust about reinvestment in infrastructure in this country if we are to get our economy moving back in the right direction."

The Economic Development Council of Central Illinois estimates more than 5,000 people travel from the Peoria area to Bloomington-Normal to work on a daily basis, and more than 2,500 travel in the reverse direction. The EDC estimates more than 95% of these commuters travel alone in a single occupancy vehicle. Area leaders hope an inter-urban service would reduce travel times and congestion while improving air quality in the region.

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