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GLBT rail line continues to spark controversy

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After receiving backlash regarding its first proposal, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GLBT) has submitted an alternative route for its rail line to the Surface Transportation Board. The new line GLBT hopes to implement will run from LaPorte, Ind., to Milton, Wis., and is intended to help circumvent rail traffic around Chicago.

Various communities that would have been affected by the original rail line voiced their concerns, pressuring GLBT to modify its plans. However, despite the fact GLBT’s updated proposal would encounter fewer environmental hurdles than the original, residents who would be impacted by GLBT’s line remain unhappy.

GLBT’s first proposal — an $8 billion, 281-mile rail line that would run through rural counties in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, and the largest rail project in the U.S. since 1911 — came as a shock to many when it was announced in early 2016. Most notably, the original route would have impacted LaPorte, Lake and Porter counties in Indiana, as well as Grundy, LaSalle and Boone counties in northern Illinois.

After crossing Interstate 80, the line would follow Interstate 39 through Belvidere, Ill.­ — a suburb of Rockford — and then pass Clinton, Wis., before intersecting Interstate 43 and reaching its final stop in Milton. This line would have been able to handle 110 trains a day and been a great help to Chicago’s packed railways.

According to transportation experts, freight congestion in the Chicago area is so bad that trains take three days to make it from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then another three days just to get through Chicago itself. The line also would have created job opportunities in each of the regions it passed.

However, despite these potential benefits, the possibility of a new railroad caused unrest in nearly every community that would have been affected, as many residents voiced environmental and agricultural concerns. They noted that farmers in particular would be negatively impacted, with the rail line cutting through their properties. This would make it inconvenient– and potentially dangerous — for farmers to work on their land.

Clinton, a small town located east of Beloit, was a perpetrator in the formation of a Rock County protest group, “Rock Against the Rail.”

Residents established the group in hopes of pushing the rail line out of east Rock County, Clinton in particular. Boone County took similar action, as it helped form “Citizens Against the Great Lakes Basin Railroad.” As an agricultural region, the county rallied against the railway, building support online and eventually getting hundreds of citizens to speak out at county board meetings.

Despite the small size of each individual protest, the sheer amount of outcry GLBT received forced the company’s hand. By July 5, the Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) — which operates the Surface Transportation Board — had received more than 3,500 comments expressing concern about the environmental impact of the rail line and suggesting that alternative routes should be considered.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, GLBT submitted an alternative route to the Surface Transportation Board. It was clear that the community’s voices were heard, particularly the efforts made by Rock and Boone Counties.

According to the new proposal, the route will now run west of Beloit and avoid Boone County completely. The new route still starts in LaPorte, but would cross I-80 farther to the west, and then follow I-39 north before breaking off slightly to the west when I-39 merges with Interstate 90. The rail would travel west of Rockford before crossing into Wisconsin, where it would then turn east and cross I-39/90 to the north of Beloit. The new route, which will still end near Milton, is also just 260 miles, shaving 21 miles off of the original route.

Although the alternative route caters to some of the communities’ requests, many residents remain unsatisfied. As the new route runs closer to Rockford than the original, many in Winnebago County are concerned for their environment. The Town of Beloit has expressed frustration as well, as the alternative route travels through the township. Agricultural issues are still present in various regions as well.

Despite uproar regarding the new route from Rock and Winnebago counties in particular, it is unknown if the Surface Transportation Board will take the opposition into account in the form of a public hearing. GLBT has stated that it will consider the communities’ opinions, but would rather not modify the route more than once.

Sources: Beloit Daily News, Rockford Register Star, WREX

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