CHICAGO - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland joined Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and six other Midwestern governors Monday in presenting a united front in seeking billions in federal funds to develop a regional high-speed passenger rail network with Chicago as its hub.
The governors signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to support each other's applications before the Federal Rail Commission for individual projects that could eventually be meshed into a single network. The agreement also creates a multistate steering group to coordinate the efforts.
"A modern transportation system that includes passenger rail service enhances the quality of life for those in its proximity, revitalizes our cities, and boosts the economic development and growth potential of a region," Mr. Strickland said.
The memorandum specifically mentions "connecting to the East by way of Indiana with the Ohio network and service to Toledo and the 3C Corridor." The "3C Corridor" refers to Ohio's proposal to revive passenger rail service connecting Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland by way of Dayton.
The conventional 79 mph trains would run on upgraded existing freight lines with the long-term goal of eventually converting to new high-speed rail traveling up to 110 miles per hour.
The agreement also mentions a link to the southeast through Indianapolis and Cincinnati and a link to the northeast via Grand Rapids, Holland, and Port Huron, Mich.
If it becomes reality, the Chicago Hub could eventually have high-speed tentacles reaching out to such cities as Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Green Bay, and Des Moines.
"You can't have a nationwide passenger rail system without Ohio," U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said. "This agreement, coupled with new federal funds through the economic recovery package, will make the 3C Corridor one step closer to becoming a reality."
The total Chicago Hub is estimated at $3.5 billion, nearly half of the $8 billion set aside nationwide for passenger rail.
Forty states and Washington have submitted 278 preapplications totaling $102 billion.
Ohio recently submitted its preliminary application seeking $250 million to $400 million for the 3C Corridor. The goal is to have that lower-speed service up and running in 2011. A final application is due Oct. 1.
A recently enacted two-year transportation budget required Ohio to seek the federal funds. But some lawmakers who are less enthusiastic about the prospects of passenger rail ultimately supporting itself financially insisted that a bipartisan, supermajority of the legislative Ohio Controlling Board sign off before the state starts spending money in that direction.
The budget also required the state to conduct an economic feasibility study into a corridor directly connecting Toledo and Columbus, presumably giving that corridor a competitive advantage over other Ohio corridors in the future. That link is not mentioned in the memorandum of understanding signed yesterday.
The subject of the summit may have been rail, but Mr. Strickland flew to Chicago.
"He flew because he was traveling from Columbus, which shows that we need the 3C Corridor, which will connect Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland with Chicago," Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said.
- JIM PROVANCE