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GENOA – Officials announced Friday that Amtrak trains will run through Genoa by early 2014.
Genoa will be one of several stops for Amtrak’s new Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque service, a $60 million project that will create 650 construction jobs, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced.
“Obviously, we’re very, very pleased,” Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli said. “It’s going to vastly increase the population served.”
The announcement was something of a surprise. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said in late March that the route would take what IDOT called the “Northern Route,” which would include a stop in Belvidere, not Genoa, as the train went from Union Station in Chicago to downtown Rockford to Iowa. The route with the Genoa stop is in what IDOT calls the “Southern Route.”
In April, IDOT officials confirmed that the route would stop in Belvidere, but noted that the decision was made by Quinn and not transportation officials. In August, an IDOT spokesman said data was still being compiled on the project in order to be eligible for federal funds in the future.
Messages left Friday with Quinn’s office were not returned, but in a news release announcing the route selection, he said that “Illinois is committed to creating jobs and promoting economic development by linking our cities, businesses and universities through passenger rail. The selection of the Southern Route does the best job of accomplishing those goals safely and cost effectively.”
The Southern Route was chosen because of lower costs, increased ridership potential and safety issues, state officials said in the news release. The decision was based on results from a feasibility survey administered by Decatur-based engineering firm URS Corp. It was the second such study done about the route, the first being completed in 2007. Both studies recommended the Southern Route.
IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman said the Southern Route offers the best deal. Bringing the project to Genoa will cost an estimated $36.1 million less than the Northern Route. The Southern Route through DeKalb County also will cross 33 fewer roads and highways; is estimated to net an additional 21,400 Amtrak riders; and will be a shorter route by about 2 miles.
Despite the earlier statements about the route going through Belvidere, those behind the effort to bring the Amtrak to DeKalb County remained optimistic.
Bonnie Hanson, director of the Genoa Chamber of Commerce, said when the organization learned the route was to go through Belvidere, a petition campaign resulted in 1,000 signatures in less than two weeks in support of the Genoa route.
“This is a happy day for us,” she said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled, and we’re ready to take a ride on Amtrak.”
Other DeKalb County leaders said Illinois officials made a responsible decision with taxpayer money.
“An Amtrak service is going to support and reinforce development in Genoa and DeKalb County,” said Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp. “Genoa could certainly attract additional business activity as a result of the new rail station.”
The closest station to DeKalb is 28 miles away in Plano, Borek said, and a station in Genoa will cut that distance in half.
“We are extremely pleased and excited about the news regarding Amtrak,” Genoa Mayor Todd Walker said. “We had confidence in the governor and IDOT that they would look at all the facts and make the best decision that’s in the best interest of Illinois taxpayers, not just the county of DeKalb.”
DeKalb County Administrator Ray Bockman said Genoa officials should be proud of their efforts.
“It’s a great example of the state of Illinois making a decision based on the merits of the case,” he said. “A study confirmed lower cost, increased ridership and public benefit overall. It was the best decision.”
State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, supported the route with the Belvidere stop. He said he was a little disappointed by Friday’s announcement, but is confident the state chose the best route. Both Belvidere and Genoa are in his legislative district.
“It was going to disenfranchise folks no matter which community it went to,” he said. “We’ll move forward and make sure it’s a feasible route and that it has good ridership.”
State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said that Quinn may have misspoken in March when he said the route would go through Belvidere.
“What I think is really important here is that the governor tried to be fair,” Pritchard said. “When you have two studies that come out with the same recommendation, a fair-minded person is going to follow that recommendation.”
Belvidere Mayor Fred Brereton and state Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, could not be reached for comment Friday. Belvidere and Genoa are in Wait’s legislative district. The Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce declined to comment, and a message left with the Growth Dimensions Economic Development for Belvidere was not returned Friday.
By the Numbers
The Illinois Department of Transportation has selected a route to provide Amtrak service between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa. The state considered two finalist for routes: Route A had stops in Chicago, Elgin, Belvidere, Rockford, Galena and Dubuque. Route C had stops in Chicago, Elgin, Genoa, Rockford, Galena and Dubuque. Route C has been chosen.
Some of the things the state considered in making its decision:
Route A – $62.3 million
Route C – $26.2 million
Route A – 55,000
Route C – 76,400
Estimated annual revenue
Route A – $1.2 million
Route C – $1.6 million
Number of grade crossings
Route A – 176
Route C – 143
Route A – 184
Route C – 182.2
Route A – 5 hours, 25 minutes
Route C – 5 hours, 10 minutes
Source: Illinois Department of Transportation