Transportation collaboration elevated

Transportation collaboration elevated

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

A town meeting at the Greater Rockford Airport on June 19 titled “The Future of Regional Transportation” brought together a large number of officials to discuss poignant issues on O’Hare congestion relief, rail service and the role of the Rockford airport in regional solutions.

WREX-13’s Eric Wilson and WNTA’s Chris Bowman moderated the event, in which officials answered questions about regional transportation. The meeting was hosted by the Greater Rockford Airport Transportation Coalition.

Bowman aired his delight about the fact that so many local leaders came together. “I think it was an excellent meeting,” he said. “As far as I’ve been involved in media and politics since 1974, I’ve never seen such a large group of elected officials, appointed officials and opinion leaders. At least we’re working together on something. Getting them all in the room was a major accomplishment for that group.”

They were: Belvidere Mayor Fred Brereton; Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz; Rockford Mayor Doug Scott; Illinois Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34th); Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67th); Rep. Ron Wait (R-68th); Rep. Dave Winters (R-69th); Rockford Area Council of 100 President Ryan Petty; Rochelle Economic Development Director Ken Wise; GRA Board of Commissioners Chairman Gene Allen; GRA Executive Director James Loomis; Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition Executive Director Rick Harnish; and Illinois Association of Railroad Passengers President David Randall.

Mayor Scott has recently been active in pushing for passenger service to Rockford. “People are starting to mention us,” he said. “I think our airport wants passenger service. We want this. All of us do.”

He acknowledged that Peotone, the Chicago suburb where the governor wants to secure a new airport, is political.

“We’re not necessarily anti-Peotone,” Loomis remarked. Referring to how the public can help, he advised that they write letters to CEOs of airlines, such as United Atlantic Coast and Air Wisconsin American. Surrounding communities also want to play a role in the transportation initiative. “We see ourselves as kind of a supporting role,” Belvidere Mayor Brereton said.

Another critical transportation issue, rail service, was also mentioned. Harnish touted rail service and said that a train service can be downtown in 90 minutes and connect to the airport or to other trains that travel to 200 cities. He said a train is convenient in that passengers have the ability to use phones and laptop computers en route.

“We are competing worldwide as a Midwest region,” he said. “There are a number of hurdles to overcome.”

Freeport Mayor Gitz added that more rail service existed 50 years ago than today and said the current lack of service is “unacceptable.” He believes it’s necessary to make sure the airport is the anchor. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be,” he stated.

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