By Paul Gorski
The Great Lakes Basin Railroad (GLBRR) is a rail line proposed by a private group that promises to relieve regional freight train congestion. This would be done by developing a new multi-state private rail line that bypasses Chicago and cuts across hundreds of acres of Illinois farmland, including some in western Winnebago County. Suffice to say, many of the landowners and villages in the path of the proposed rail line have serious doubts and concerns about sacrificing their property for a private, toll-based railroad. For good reason.
To those business professionals reading this, imagine someone asking you to partner with them: “I’d like to build this new product. I don’t have any experience building this product, I don’t have any customers signed up for the product, and my potential customers are already committed to using my competitor’s product.” You would say, “Sure, what do you need from me?” No, probably not. Nevertheless, that is what local leaders including Larry Morrissey, Scott Christiansen and Michael Dunn, Jr. agreed to in July of 2015. More on that later.
The sponsor of the GLBRR does not have much if any previous experience in rail transportation. Two of the six major railroads that might use the service have said they will not use it. The remaining four rail carriers have not supported the project. In addition, there is also at least one big project, the CREATE Program which is working to relieve rail congestion in northern Illinois. CREATE has the support and participation of the six major rail carriers in question.
Despite this, the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning (RMAP) stated its support for the GLBRR in its 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan dated July 30, 2015. Among those leaders were: Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen and RMAP Executive Director Michael Dunn Jr. The RMAP plan has big ideas for the sketchy GLBRR, hoping for rail connections to the Rockford airport.
The GLBRR project has been in the news recently because many local residents oppose the project because of its potential negative impact on the county. Fueling the fire, County Board Chairman candidates John Nelson and Frank Haney have come out on different sides of the debate. Nelson sides with the residents; Haney with the project. Well, sort of, depending on the day.
Haney has twisted and turned on his position regarding the GLBRR. First, he is for it, then he will wait until the environmental review, then he will take in under consideration, and now, apparently he might be against it. I cannot see how he can be against it. The GLBRR project has the support of his mentors: Larry Morrissey, Scott Christiansen and Michael Dunn Jr.
Haney is friends with, served on a college board with, and received campaign help from Dunn Jr. Dunn Jr. is also the son of Mike Dunn Sr., who heads the Rockford airport, which again, figures prominently in RMAP’s plan for the GLBRR. Funny how things like that turnout in this county.
Haney has some of the same big contributors as Christiansen, and has many of the same friends, advisors and campaign contributors as Morrissey. When push comes to shove on a final county board action on the GLBRR, who do you think Haney will side with: residents of Winnebago County; or his friends, family and the big money that put him in office? Follow the money.
Nelson has been consistent, siding with the concerned residents. Most of these residents are raising land use and environmental concerns. I say focus on the basic premise of the plan and the people offering up the plan. Who will use the rail line? Why would the rail carriers support this project and the multi-billion dollar CREATE Program?
I cannot help but feel this project raises the same false hopes the failed proposed ethanol plant did, which was to some people simply a scam, a scam that blinded many with the false promise of jobs and economic development.
The proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad raises legitimate fears and concerns. I encourage residents to continue asking their questions and demand more hearings on the project. Share this message with family, friends and neighbors. The local insiders supporting this plan will not stop or relent. You should not either.
Paul Gorski is a resident of Cherry Valley Township, Winnebago County and serves as a Cherry Valley Township Trustee. This article was written with Rock River Times publisher Frank Schier in mind.