With work under way to build a high-speed rail route from Chicago to St. Louis, two of the three candidates seeking Illinois' 5th Congressional District seat disagree on whether the work should be expanded to explore other routes connecting Chicago to other major cities.
Incumbent Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Chicago, and Republican challenger Dan Schmitt, also from Chicago, recently sat down with the Daily Herald editorial board to discuss the level of involvement the federal government should have in the transportation needs of Chicago and the suburbs. Green Party candidate Nancy Wade did not attend.
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Quigley said he was ashamed Congress could agree on only a two-year transportation bill and said a long-term plan featuring increased high-speed rail routes is desperately needed.
The current plan costs $1.4 billion, with 95 percent of the total coming from the federal government. Top speeds are 110 mph between Joliet and Alton, an Illinois town north of St. Louis, compared to the current 79 mph. It will shave travel times from 5½ to around 4½ hours and will use a single track owned by Union Pacific Railroad. There will be three round trips a day.
The Illinois Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration also are looking at a double-track option that would allow 110 mph trains the entire route. Travel times would range from three hours and 50 minutes to four hours and 10 minutes. There would be eight round trips a day. The estimated cost is $4.1 billion to $4.9 billion.
Schmitt called the idea a joke and said the country needs to focus more on becoming energy independent.
"I do not support any high-speed rail. It's the biggest waste of money and maybe the dumbest idea to come along," Schmitt said. "I mean, government should be building railroads? Are we kidding? The government should be working to bring the cost of oil down."
Schmitt said his strategy to bring down the oil prices would be to "embarrass various parties in the oil industry."
"Let the people know the facts so we know we're getting ripped off," he said.
Quigley, however, said he doesn't think embarrassing people will help Congress achieve any of its goals. He's going to continue supporting high-speed rail as an alternative for both passengers and freight.
"Part of the reason you want to do high-speed, with all due respect, is that it helps freight, which does nothing but create jobs. Freight only operates in the middle of the day in Chicago. It just can't get out because there's too many roadblocks," Quigley said. "We need to build viaducts, overpasses, underpasses and so forth because you can go 250 mph to St. Louis or Detroit or Indianapolis or Milwaukee and create jobs and commerce."
The newly reconfigured 5th Congressional District includes parts of Bensenville, Des Plaines, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Rosemont and Wood Dale.
Rail: Republican calls idea a joke