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.

Eastern Iowa News posted a slideshow of Culver’s West Liberty stop here. The Quad City Times covered the governor’s stops in Walcott and Moline. According to Quad Cities Online, more than 100 people turned out for the event in Moline:

The advocacy for passenger rail service is a non-partisan push, and the event Sunday brought out local Iowa and Illinois aldermen and mayors, county board supervisors and chairmen, state representatives and senators, and federal representatives. […]

Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack said he and other congressional representatives from Iowa and Illinois are pressing every chance they get to get $22 million in federal stimulus funding in Illinois and $32 million in Iowa for Amtrak.[…]

Gov. Culver said he doesn’t know if he’s ever been a part in a project where so many people have come together to make it happen. […]

“We are going to need your continued involvement and participation,” Gov. Culver said, adding Amtrak and federal officials have set the bar high when it comes to the application process that will allow Iowa and Illinois secure the funding to build the link.

“It is important as anything I’m working on now as governor. It means huge investment capital in cities between Chicago and Iowa City. It means job creation, economic development. Think about how it will open up this entire corridor. People can work in Moline and live in another part of this area,” he said.

At the annual meeting of 1000 Friends of Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City, I heard a presentation about the proposed Amtrak route to Chicago and a commuter rail project linking downtown Iowa City with North Liberty and eventually the Eastern Iowa Airport and Cedar Rapids. The sites proposed for the Amtrak and light rail stations are less than a block apart from each other, very close to major cultural and employment sites in Iowa City. In addition, city planners are working on mixed-use business and residential developments in that neighborhood. If the rail funding comes through, it’s going to be a fantastic amenity for Iowa City. The power-point presentation will be available soon on the 1000 Friends of Iowa website. One speaker noted that it’s currently hard to purchase train cars for light rail because of high demand nationwide. Even in this tough economy, many metro governments recognize the benefits of expanding commuter rail.

As for federal policy on passenger rail, I wrote last week about the massive demand for stimulus high-speed rail funding, which prompted the House Appropriations Committee to allocate $4 billion toward high-speed rail in the coming year. The Iowa Global Warming Campaign posted  this action alert about efforts by Republican Congressman Tom Latham (IA-04) to strip out $3 billion of the high-speed rail funding for more highway funds.

I’m happy to report that Latham was unsuccessful. The House on Thursday passed the fiscal year 2010 Transportation Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill by a vote of 256-168:

The spending bill passed by the House actually sets out $4 billion for high-speed rail, but Democratic officials expect to transfer half of that total to a national infrastructure bank that would give grants and make loans for large-scale transportation projects, another Obama priority.

“That is the most important transportation initiative since the Eisenhower interstate highway system,” said Democratic Representative John Olver, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that wrote the bill.

Speaking of encouraging news, the Obama administration

has appointed Transportation for America Co-Chair Shelley Poticha to be Senior Advisor for Sustainable Housing and Communities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the department announced today.

Poticha, who is also President and CEO of Reconnecting America, is expected to head a new HUD Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities that would be created under legislation to be sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT).

“Shelley will help lead HUD’s effort to change the way we think about how our communities fit with how Americans live their lives,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Her wealth of experience will help move us forward in creating sustainable, greener and smarter communities.”

Poticha will represent HUD in an inter-agency effort to create sustainable communities involving the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation as well. The DOT and HUD announced joint plans to promote livable communities in March, and the EPA joined the effort in June.

Anyone interested in transportation policy should bookmark the Transportation for America coalition’s blog.

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