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Huntley officials cautious about cost as Amtrak service talks rekindle

In 2014, former Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $223 million plan to restart Amtrak services between Chicago and Rockford with stops in Huntley, Elgin and Belvidere.

In response, the Huntley Village Board at the time approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation for the construction of a passenger rail station. But after Quinn lost his re-election bid to Bruce Rauner, the newly elected governor proposed cuts to mass transit, halting the prospect of Amtrak services in the area.

Huntley Village Manager Dave Johnson said the village spent about $50,000 in consulting fees and engineering plans for a rail station that never came to fruition.

But with the overwhelming approval of a referendum to explore a passenger rail service and the election of Gov. J.B. Pritzker – who has expressed interest in investing in the state’s crumbling infrastructure – conversations about the railway have rekindled.

Johnson said he believes the village can pick up the pieces from the failed 2014 initiative, but staff will use caution in investing local funds for such a project again, unless an iron-clad plan is in place.

“The public advocacy part is obviously strong, as it always has been, but our experience going through this over the last decade is the understanding that there’s a significant amount of capital resources and studies that would have to take place before Amtrak could offer service,” Johnson said.

Original plans for the Amtrak service included stops as far south as Genoa and Freeport, but failed negotiations with the Canadian National Railway forced officials to alter the stops.

Under the terms of the 2014 intergovernmental agreement, a station in Huntley would have cost $3.55 million, and IDOT would have reimbursed about $2.9 million to the village.

Johnson said the village has to be cautious with increased costs five years later. Should a capital bill on infrastructure be approved – which would precede any board action – Johnson said projects would be prioritized by a number of factors, such as cost analysis, safety and ridership.

Should the project advance, Johnson said, the village is looking at somewhere between Main and Mill streets as a potential location for the passenger rail station.

On Jan. 15, the Rail Alliance Initiative for Northern Illinois held a meeting in Rockford to present information about the service. During the November election, about 81 percent of Winnebago County voters voted in favor of a referendum asking whether an Amtrak passenger rail service should be reinstated.

Representing the village of Huntley during the meeting were development services director Charles Nordman and Trustee Ronda Goldman.

Goldman said the railway would be of great benefit to attract younger people, jobs and people who have trouble driving.

“I believe everyone is still excited about it in Huntley,” Goldman said. “I know I am.”

Although attendees were advised that the plan has bipartisan support in the Legislature, Derrick James, senior manager of governmental affairs with Amtrak, said residents must let their public officials know how important the project is to their communities.

Additional community response to the project has been largely positive.

During the Village Board’s Jan. 10 meeting, Huntley resident Lisa Arvanites said she wondered what kind of other projects and economic development would have been a possibility if the opportunity for a new railway had not been taken away from the community four years ago.

“We need to begin working toward this goal,” Arvanites said. “I believe it would be a travesty if Huntley were not able to regain an option to participate in this project.”

A community workshop on the rail project will be from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Giovanni’s Convention Center,
610 N. Bell Road, Rockford. Because space is limited, call 815-547-3436 or email
sosnowski@ilhousegop.org to RSVP.

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