Feds give no money for passenger rail to Iowa City

The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski reports today that the Obama administration declined requests for federal money to support Amtrak routes between Chicago and Iowa City and between Chicago and Dubuque.

A list of grants issued Wednesday night by the White House shows that Iowa will receive only $18 million in federal railroad passenger money. This includes $1 million to study a proposed passenger train that would run daily between Chicago and Omaha, including stops in the Quad Cities, Iowa City and Des Moines.

The remaining $17 million will be used to install four remote- controlled powered crossovers on the BNSF Railway tracks in the Ottumwa area. This will reduce travel times and improve on-time performance on Amtrak’s existing California Zephyr train that runs across southern Iowa, federal officials said.

Iowa and Illinois officials had sought $256 million in federal funds for the Chicago to Iowa City route, which would go through the Quad Cities, and $139 million for the Chicago to Dubuque route.

Dubuque and the Quad Cities may get passenger rail despite today’s disappointing news:

Even without the federal money, Illinois officials expect to begin Amtrak service between Chicago and Dubuque and Chicago and the Quad Cities, possibly within two years, officials said. That’s because Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $31 billion capital construction package last year to ensure the rail expansion.

But the federal grants would have bolstered both projects and would have assured the extension of the train service to Iowa City, and possibly eventually to Des Moines, officials said.

A feasibility study from 2008 showed promising numbers for an Amtrak route connecting Iowa City to the Quad Cities. A huge number of University of Iowa students are from the Chicago area, and many people living in that region of Iowa travel to Chicago for business or entertainment.

In comments to the Des Moines Reigster, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba predicted yesterday that the Chicago to Iowa City train would receive some federal funding by 2013, even if the current grant request was denied. I hope he turns out to be right.

UPDATE: Governor Chet Culver’s response to this news is after the jump.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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A few links on passenger rail and transportation policy

Governor Chet Culver rode a train from Iowa City to Chicago Sunday, promoting passenger rail links en route to the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, which starts Monday.  

After the jump I’ve posted some news relating to passenger rail in Iowa and nationwide, including a follow-up on Congressman Tom Latham’s attempt to transfer funds from high-speed rail to the highway fund.

UPDATE: From the governor’s office on July 27:

Governor Chet Culver and Governor Pat Quinn today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate efforts by Iowa and Illinois to establish passenger rail service from Chicago to Dubuque and from Chicago to the Quad Cities and Iowa City.

In addition, Governor Culver joined leaders from eight states who signed a Memorandum of Understanding in support of regional high-speed rail. That agreement includes, as a key goal, extending passenger service from Iowa City to Des Moines and on to Omaha. […]

Following the signing of the eight-state high-speed rail agreement, Iowa and Illinois officials signed a separate agreement that spells out action to be taken by the transportation departments in both states.

Click here and scroll down to find links to the rail agreements signed in Chicago on July 27.

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The best news you didn't hear about yesterday

A House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing featuring two low-profile cabinet members won’t make a splash even on a slow-news day, and certainly not when a juicy story like the AIG outrage has so many angles to explore.

But take my word for it: big news came out of yesterday’s Congressional testimony by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood. The cabinet secretaries announced

a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.

I explain why this is important and welcome news after the jump.

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