CHICAGO — While Illinois lawmakers temporarily adjourned last week without passing a fiscal 2011 budget, they did approve legislation establishing a commission that will lead the initial planning effort for a regional high-speed rail system.
The resolution establishing the Illinois and Midwest High Speed Rail Commission states that its mission is to recommend “the best governmental structure for a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance a high-speed rail system for Illinois and the Midwest.”
The Senate late last week unanimously approved the resolution creating the commission. Only one chamber’s approval is needed.
Gov. Pat Quinn is not required to sign the legislation, but he controls the appointments of 10 of 19 commission members.
The other members are appointed by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders.
The state secretary of transportation, the executive director of the Illinois Commerce Commission, and the executive director of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority are ex-officio members.
The agency also would explore funding options and make recommendations on how to best connect the services offered by bullet trains with airports, Amtrak service, and public transportation systems. The state’s $30 billion bond-funded capital program includes $400 million for high-speed rail.
Illinois also was allocated $1.2 billion of the $8 billion from the federal stimulus for high-speed rail projects.
Critics of Illinois’ plans argue that the proposed train lines would not achieve true high-speed rail service. Funding for the projects also remains a central challenge.
Another $2.5 billion from the stimulus has yet to be awarded, but additional federal funding may be hard to come by in the next fiscal year unless there is clear evidence that the awards already granted have been used by state and local governments, a congressional staffer said at a rail industry meeting earlier this week.
A group of Illinois mayors and county officials sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this month promoting efforts to secure funding for a Chicago-to-St.-Louis 220-mph rail line, according to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which wants to establish a network of such bullet trains branching out from Chicago.