(photo from Creative Commons)
Yes, that's right I said it. Your stimulus dollars could be wasted in Illinois--the home state of President Obama and Assistant Majority Leader, Senator Dick Durbin. Oh and let's not forget to include U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who is also from Illinois. That is, if they have it their way.
Why would I make such a claim? Well, finally I have found a very informative news article about the proposed high speed rail system to be built between Chicago, Springfield, and supposedly to St. Louis. (Please click the shared link at the top). As I read more and more of the article, I found the figures and statistics hard to believe. I worked for several years at a state funded administrative office as a Data/Statistics Specialist, and one thing I will never forget is hearing that "statistics can be manipulated" to help prove a point. Also some known statistics that don't support a claim can just be left out. My disbelief was also confirmed at the end of the article, where I read the readers' comments. Be sure and read the readers' comments at the bottom of the shared link!
As you might know I live very close to Springfield and keep up with all the news there. Our ABC television station is based out of Springfield. It seems like every single day and night for the last several months, this has been in our local news. Most of the local controversy has not been about the wasteful spending on this proposed project, but instead it has centered around the city of Springfield and whether this new set of tracks should go through Third Street in downtown Springfield as the tracks already do now. The City would prefer the proposed new tracks be built along some tracks that are on the east side of town. If the city of Springfield has it's way there would be would a "wrong side of the tracks" section of the city. Actually Springfield already is a much divided city with the east side being the "wrong side." But that's a whole other story! Anyway...
What really makes me angry about this whole thing is the fact the Illinois has been building a new interstate highway--I67 (U.S. Route 67) for over ten years. This project is called Corridor 67 and would be the only north/south interstate highway from the Quad-Cities to St. Louis in western Illinois. The economy of western Illinois would pick up, if the highway were complete. This is especially true in towns like Jacksonville, where east/west interstates (I72) would cross with the new I67. I live less than a quarter of a mile from one of the exits. Over ten years ago the state annexed part of my long front yard, taking out trees, ruining my driveway, and making my property smaller to widen the highway out front that is very close to an exit. Back then it was exciting to know that the project would be completed in about ten years. But it is no where near complete.
After the stimulus package was approved, the Illinois governor had a website created to allow the people of Illinois to see how the state is spending the funding received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus package). When the website Recovery.Illinois.gov was created, anyone could make suggestions on how to spend the money. As a citizen of this state, I submitted my request that some of the money be used to finish Corridor 67. In a matter of days I received an email saying something like, "we're sorry, but only 'shovel ready' projects are eligible for these funds." Finishing this project is not "shovel ready?" I beg to differ!
This proposed high speed rail project certainly is not shovel ready! They don't tell you about all the little details like how lots of overpasses will have to be built in all the cities that the 220 mph trains will travel, how a great number of farmers will lose land, and lots of new crossing bars will have to be built. Not all of these "extras" will be funded by the stimulus money either.
U.S. Route 67 is the route we always take to and from St. Louis, but it is not completed. We can drive on it south for about thirteen miles and then it merges to the old two lane highway running through several small towns full of stop signs, stop lights and a very slow speed limit. Most of the unfinished expressway between Jacksonville and Alton is in Greene County. Once you are out of Greene county, the road again becomes a divided four lane highway almost, but not quite to the Missouri border.
Heading north from Jacksonville to Quad-Cities (Davenport, Iowa area) the situation is the same. Part of the way is two lanes and part of the way is four lanes. As far as I know, there are no immediate plans to finish this project any time soon. In March, the Associated Press reported that the state of Illinois had a budget deficit of over 11.5 billion dollars. So why isn't the stimulus money being used on finishing the highway? Well, just go back and re-read my first paragraph and you will find your answer. How many decades will it take to balance the Illinois budget anyway? Nobody knows. Using the stimulus money for the highway just seems more logical, since we already have Amtrak from Springfield to Chicago.
As you can imagine, this is not a very safe highway to drive on--especially at night or in bad weather. Semi trucks use the route more and more and I'm sure each time they must think, "surely the highway is finished by now." But the highway is not finished. Earlier in the year a semi truck killed a pedestrian on this highway. According to the police report, the semi driver was negotiating a series of curves in the dark early hours, when he struck the pedestrian. No citations were issued and there were no witnesses. Some people think it was a suicide, but whatever the reason, one thing is for sure. If I67 were complete, it would not have happened, because the new highway would not be going through the tiny town of Carrollton.
But they want to build a whole new set of train tracks to Chicago just to save a little bit of travel time. Like the title of the link says "REALLY--high speed rail a better option?" This state needs to get it's priorities in order. Of course, that's just my humble opinion.