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State money problems won't derail high-speed trains, governors say

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 22, 2009 - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon exuded excitement Monday as they gave the two states a good shot in its quest for federal money to help pay for a high-speed Chicago-St. Louis rail line.

"A lot of people understand that we have to go 'back to the future,' " Quinn said, as he joined Nixon at a news conference in the new Amtrak station downtown, under the Metrolink and Highway 40.

Quinn added that it made sense for Missouri and Illinois to join forces, since both have a long history as rail centers during the heyday for train travel.

Nixon said the longstanding quest for a Midwest labyrinth of high-speed lines, with Chicago as the hub, could get "a jumpstart'' if the initial Chicago-St. Louis leg is awarded federal stimulus money to cover some or all of the estimated $560 million price tag.

The high-speed train would have a minimum speed of 110 miles an hour, with a maximum of well over 200 miles an hour. Such speed would cut the St. Louis-Chicago travel time to less than four hours.

“Because of the planning and foresight of our Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, enhancing the route from Chicago to St. Louis for high-speed trains would create jobs immediately, provide a cost-effective alternative for travelers and position the entire corridor for economic recovery, growth and transformation in the years to come," Nixon said in brief prepared remarks. 

Both states are suffering from budget problems, but both governors said that spending for high-speed rail made financial sense.

The latest version of Illinois' proposed state budget includes money for high-speed rail.

In Missouri, Nixon said that he's looking for various options to come up with any needed state money. One such option might be to include high-speed rail projects -- most likely, a St.Louis-Kansas City line -- in Nixon's proposed statewide capital-improvement program that would a massive bond issue. Such a program could qualify for 35 percent federal help.

In any case, local business leaders who met with the two governors said afterwards that the two-state quest for high-speed rail should make an impact in Washington. "It is a powerful statement that signals how strong the effort is in the Midwest," said Richard C.D. Fleming, head of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

According a study of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, the proposed nine-state system of high-speed would create jobs and economic growth, as well as make it easier and quicker for people to travel within the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Missouri could see 5,600 permanent new jobs, and Illinois could gain 24,000, if the 3,000-mile system is constructed and fully operational. All the states could see financial benefits that, combined, could reach $5 billion, the study said.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.