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Midwest governors form high-speed rail group
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/27/2009 12:44 PM | Updated: 7/27/2009 5:23 PM

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Hoping to pool their clout to land billions of federal tax dollars, eight Midwestern governors and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley agreed Monday to work together to build a vast network of high-speed rail lines.

The agreement envisions a web of high-speed lines radiating out from Chicago to the Twin Cities, Green Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Iowa City, among other Midwestern cities. The signers, including Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, hope the agreement will bring the region a large chunk of at least $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail in President Barack Obama's stimulus package.

"America is going to come back ... and it will come back with infrastructure built for the 21st Century," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, who attended a meeting with the governors and Daley in downtown Chicago Monday. "We can do it."

The agreement calls for money to first go to upgrading lines from Chicago to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Detroit. In all, the complete high-speed expansion could take more than 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to complete.

Proponents say high-speed expansion, which foresees trains traveling around 100 mph or more in most cases, will make rail travel more reliable and affordable, increasing its use and improving the environment, national security and economy. Officials say the complete Midwest expansion proposed Monday would create 57,000 permanent jobs and 15,000 construction jobs.

Opponents, though, say the project costs too much and will only duplicate routes now covered by relatively cheap airline flights.

Illinois has been viewed as a front-runner to receive a substantial portion of the $8 billion set aside given that Obama is from the state as is his transportation chief, former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria. Yet, considerable competition exists, including plans for a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Disneyland in California.

Federal officials are still reviewing preliminary applications for the money. Some of the funds are expected to be released by the end of the year.

In addition to Quinn in Illinois, governors who signed the agreement represent Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa.