U.S. Congressmen Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, and Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, playing to a capacity crowd of rail supporters Friday at Centre Station in Moline. displayed their united front in the fight to bring Amtrak service to the Quad-Cities.|
Both Rep. Hare (17th Illinois Congressional District) and Rep. Braley (1st Iowa District) have been lobbying for money to support passenger rail service here.
"These are two of our biggest advocates, along with Sen. (Dick) Durbin. ... I can not overstate the importance of these gentlemen's efforts in Congress on our behalf," Paul Rumler, executive director of the Quad-Cities Passenger Rail Coalition, said.
The congressmen signed a joint letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to prioritize the $22.7 million project.
"I had Secretary LaHood in my office about two weeks ago. We talked about several projects, but this was the first on the agenda," Rep. Hare, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said. "He supports the project.
"The good thing about having Ray LaHood come from this area is that he knows our projects. … This is on his radar screen. His quote to me is that he'd do everything he could to help make this a reality."
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Barack Obama last month, allocated $8 billion for passenger rail.
"The good news is there are a lot of people passionate about expanding access to passenger rail," Rep. Braley said. "We have neglected our passenger rail infrastructure far too long."
The nationwide distribution of stimulus money for passenger rail is scheduled to begin next month. State departments of transportation could start applying for it as early as June, according to Mr. Rumler.
"It's a very exciting time for passenger rail. Think of how far we've come as a community in terms of advocating passenger rail service," he said. "It's been nearly two years since the coalition formed, bound and determined to make passenger rail in the Quad-Cities a reality."
Just last month, President Obama signed the $9 billion Omnibus Appropriations Act, which included targeted spending requested by Rep. Hare allocating $475,000 for Quad-Cities track improvements, the first federal financial boost toward constructing a Quad-Cities to Chicago connection.
"It's your money. If they want to call this pork, give me the fork and spoon," Rep. Hare said. "If they don't like the term earmark, they can call it a member initiative. I just call it a payment for a project that's very needed in this area."
According to studies, a Quad-Cities to Chicago passenger rail connection would likely see more than 110,000 passengers a year. The project is slated to create between 550 and 800 "much needed, well paying" local jobs, Rep. Hare said.
The passenger rail project is shovel-ready and well-qualified for stimulus money, but the local grassroots effort must continue, the congressmen agreed.
"I think the stars are lining up here. We just have to get them all to shine at the same time," Rep. Hare said.
They urged locals to continue writing letters, gathering signatures and supporting the coalition's efforts.
"We have to continue to push to make this a reality. … With your help and your support, we're going to make this project a reality." Rep. Braley said.