Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) – If a bill now before the Illinois Senate is passed, private consortiums could soon be battling for the right to build a bullet train that could link downtown Chicago with O’Hare and Rockford International Airport.
The Illinois Toll Highway Authority wants to rebuild I-90. The bill would give it the right to negotiate with private interests who would pay to put bullet trains in the I-90 median.
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Currently, the Authority is prohibited from entering into such partnerships and can only generate private revenue through tollway Oasis leases.
Notably, the bill’s author and biggest backer is a Republican, State Rep. Dave Winters (R-Rockford).
He said huge numbers of motorists would abandon their cars if they see trains moving three or four times as fast as them.
“Those are the ones that cut the travel distance to the cities 300 miles outside of Chicago to replace the air traffic,” he said.
It would cut the travel time between O’Hare and Rockford International to 45 minutes, and just more than an hour between the west Loop and Rockford. Winters said if the rail link is built, the state could abandon the controversial and costly proposal to build a third Chicago area airport near Peotone.
Winters would divert the money to construction for the rail line.
The Illinois Dept of Transportation has already begun work to prepare for re-institution of passenger rail service between Chicago and Dubuque, via Rockford, using existing tracks.
IDOT Public and Intermodal Transportation Director Joseph Schacter said Saturday that negotiations are underway with Canadian National Ry. to make the needed improvements to its tracks to allow 79-mile-an-hour Amtrak service to begin by 2014.
But Winters said that the CN route, which last hosted rail passenger service in 1981, could never be considered for higher-speed service because of the more than 80 highway crossings. The I-90 route would allow for 220-mile-an-hour trains and would be grade separated for virtually the entire distance.
Mayor Daley has endorsed proposals to build a high-speed link between the west Loop and O’Hare.
The bill passed the House 66-47 April 12. Its Senate sponsors include Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero).
The bill is HB1091.