By Shane Nicholson
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign platform last fall centered on a streamlined business-first ideal, one that he promised would spur growth in the state.
Yet this past week has seen Rauner place the economic development of downtown Rockford and surrounding communities in jeopardy with his announcement that the proposed rail line connecting the city to Chicago has been placed on hold.
Vital infrastructure improvements are necessary for Illinois to regain ground in the battle to draw new business to the state, such as the I-90 corridor upgrades which will certainly benefit Rockford.
Killing the rail link to Chicago at this stage of economic recovery following on from the Great Recession would be detrimental to the entire region, one which is struggling to compete with Wisconsin and Iowa to bring in new money.
Currently Rockford is the only city in the top-10 in terms of population in the state without a direct rail connection to the Midwest’s largest metropolitan area. Just last week Chicago tourism officials announced that for the first time ever the city saw over 50 million visitors pass through.
However, that influx of visitors from around the globe will see little net gain for the Northwest region of the state if Rauner’s office kills off the $223 million rail project.
Infrastructure spending routinely shows a substantial net gain for governments that will put money into crucial projects such as the Amtrak line. A 2012 report from the San Francisco Fed showed that every dollar spent on infrastructure projects saw a return of nearly two dollars for states’ GDPs.
The effect is even larger in areas struggling to recover such as Rockford. Infrastructure projects in the areas hardest hit during the Great Recession showed returns upwards of four dollars on every dollar spent on infrastructure.
So why then would such a lucrative opportunity to stimulate growth in this region of the state so hard hit by the Great Recession–not to mention a decades-long state of economic and population decline–be under consideration?
Rauner’s office is reviewing all statewide discretionary spending projects through June. Pressed for comment Saturday they gave no assurances that the rail project would not be killed outright. This when towns along the way have already invested funds in projects to prep for the railway’s arrival.
What sort of pro-business model is this? How does this help Illinois create jobs and put people back to work?
Simply put, killing or even delaying such a crucial project, one that would allow the Rockford area to more effectively tap into the economic resurgence of Chicago, which has seen growth rates pushing four percent over the past 12 months, is not good for business.
If he truly cares about stimulating economic growth in the state Rauner would prioritize infrastructure above all else. Platitudes about right-to-work being the way forward will not create jobs and bring much needed revenues to the Rockford area.
But a train connection to more completely bring together the third largest economic corridor in the country would. It’s time for Gov. Rauner to stop the politicking and put true pro-business ideas like the rail line on the fast track to completion.