HUNTLEY – Genoa isn’t the only community lobbying state officials about a stalled proposal to extend Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford.
A top Huntley official recently met the acting state transportation secretary in Springfield and reinforced the economic benefits of a proposed Amtrak route put in limbo by an executive order from Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Huntley Village Manager Dave Johnson, area state lawmakers and Rockford officials all met last week with Randall Blankenhorn, appointed by Rauner as the acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Transportation, to make a regional plea for the stalled Amtrak project.
“We wanted to continue to make the case on the importance of the project, not just for passenger rail service, but for the economic impact to the region,” Johnson said.
Although he left Springfield without renewed assurance on the rail line, Johnson felt the group justified the reasons why an Amtrak route from Chicago to Rockford should continue with stops in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere.
Genoa originally was included on the Chicago-to-Rockford line back in 2010, before Quinn reversed course last spring and announced the agreement with Union Pacific Railroad. Quinn located the Amtrak route farther north through Huntley, after his office said they couldn’t agree with Canadian National on a deal to use its tracks that cut through Genoa.
Genoa officials sent Rauner a letter last month, pleading with the governor to delay the Huntley route for additional research or drop it all together.
Johnson called Genoa’s move a “closed-minded approach” since it doesn’t account for the economic dividends a village like Huntley can provide a passenger rail service. The village argued that point during the meeting with Blankenhorn last week, Johnson said.
“It was good to reinforce why we believe the northern route is the best route,” Johnson said. “Communities like Huntley have a lot more return in investment than a town of 5,000.”
State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, and Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, were among the state lawmakers who attended the Springfield meeting, Johnson said.
The sit-down meeting with state transportation officials happened as uncertainty clouds IDOT’s agreement with Union Pacific Railroad. The deal would restart passenger rail service between Chicago and Rockford for the first time since the early 1980s.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn announced the $223 million Amtrak project last spring, a few months before he lost his re-election bid to Rauner. The executive order Rauner signed on his first day in office freezing discretionary state spending consequently put the Huntley Amtrak project on an indefinite hold.
Johnson said the meeting with Blankenhorn ended without specifics on when Rauner could complete his review of major state construction projects affected by the order. Rauner’s executive order also prohibited state agencies from entering into and awarding state contracts and grants until July 1.