The state of Illinois has told the Federal Railroad Administration that it is moving forward with the Chicago to Quad-Cities passenger rail project, an official said Tuesday.
The decision may well keep in place $177 million in federal funding that was awarded in 2010 for the connection, but that will be up to the Federal Railroad Administration, which had said the grant would expire June 30.
Local officials have been lobbying Gov. Bruce Rauner to ask for an extension.
“The Illinois Department of Transportation has informed the Federal Railroad Administration that it will be proceeding with the proposal to reintroduce passenger rail service between Chicago and Moline," Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for the Illinois DOT wrote in an email Tuesday morning. "As we move forward, we remain strongly committed to looking out for the best interest of all Illinois taxpayers."
The state's initial match for the grant amounts to $45 million, and in the midst of the budget impasse, the governor's office has been willing to say lately only that the project is under review.
The railroad administration sent a letter to the state on April 4 outlining steps to close the grant, as well as options to allow it to be extended. A grant amendment would include a revised timeline for the project.
In a statement Tuesday, the federal agency said: "The Federal Railroad Administration is encouraged to hear that IDOT wants to move forward with the Chicago to Quad-Cities passenger rail project. FRA received verbal notification from IDOT that it intends to submit a grant amendment, and we look forward to receiving IDOT’s written request."
Quad-City rail backers said Tuesday they are happy with the state's commitment and now will turn to the Federal Railroad Administration to try to ensure the federal grant remains in place.
Henry Marquard, director of government relations for the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, said it is his understanding that Republican and Democratic budget proposals in Springfield include funding for the rail project, but without a resolution to the impasse, it may be difficult for the state to commit to a timeline.
Still, he said he's hopeful that the state's commitment will satisfy the FRA.
"Based on the governor and the DOT and the two proposed budgets out there, we’re hopeful the FRA ... will recognize that Illinois is committed to making this happen," he said.
Local backers have emphasized the impact of the project on the local economy, as well as local commitment of funds. The city of Moline has invested $4.6 million, which has leveraged other state and federal funds for the construction of a multi-modal station, which will include a private hotel at the site.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who has sought to pressure the Rauner administration into seeking a grant extension, said Tuesday this is a step in the right direction but she also pointedly accused the Republican governor of dragging his feet.
"I am glad that we were able to convince Governor Rauner to stop stalling and move toward accepting this $177 million job-creating federal investment, however, his decision to wait until the last minute means that the Federal Rail Administration must decide whether to allow an extension on this project," Bustos said.
She said she would continue to keep tabs on the project.