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Area leaders hail renewed commitment to rail project

Tara Barney, president and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber, speaks during a press conference on reaffirming commitment to Quad Cities to Chicago Passenger Rail at MetroLINK Centre Station Thursday, June 23, 2016, in Moline.

MOLINE — Quad-Cities mayors and state representatives gathered Thursday to hail Illinois' renewed commitment to the Chicago to Quad-Cities passenger rail line, although the project remains tangled in the state's budget impasse.

Illinois was on the brink of losing $177 million in federal funding for the rail line, set to expire June 30 without a state commitment to provide matching funds. This week the Illinois Department of Transportation indicated it supported the project and will seek an extension to the funding deadline.

Gov. Bruce Rauner had put the project under review, raising questions about $45 million in state funding approved for it before he took office.

At a Thursday news conference at MetroLINK in Moline, state Reps. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, and Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, were joined by state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Rock Island, to welcome news that the project appears to be headed in the right direction.

They were joined by the mayors of Moline and Rock Island and Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce President Tara Barney. She noted the project remains at risk as long as the budget stalemate continues in Springfield.

"Without state budgets, this project is going to continue to move at a slow pace," Ms. Barney said. "So every day that passes without a budget for the state of Illinois continues to hurt this project."

That point was echoed by Sen. Anderson: "We can't move forward on this unless we get a state budget."

Ms. Barney said there is bipartisan support for the project, with spending proposals from both parties containing funding for the passenger rail line.

Rep. Verschoore said he was pleased the governor decided to support the project, especially considering the large amount of federal funding that was at stake.

"Thank God the governor came to his senses and realized that $45 million was a pretty good investment to get $177 million from the federal government," Rep. Verschoore said. "The way it looks now, we're going to get it done."

The passenger rail service would make area colleges more attractive to students from the Chicago region and bring more tourists to the Quad-Cities, Rep. Smiddy said.

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