Janesville (WI) Gazette
Proposed Great Lakes Basin rail line draws criticism from local lawmakers
By Xavier Ward
A transportation company’s request to keep secret a list of investors in its proposed rail line drew criticism Monday from two state lawmakers and an environmental advocacy group.
In a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s proposed rail line through Rock County is a project that demands transparency.
“I have serious concerns over intent, potential investors and stockholders, and transparency,” Spreitzer wrote to the board, which has the authority to approve or deny the project.
“The proposed route is a massive project that deserves a complete application, diligent oversight and full transparency for the sake of all people and lives affected,” Spreitzer wrote.
Although Great Lakes Basin filed an application for the rail line May 1, the project has stirred controversy since it was proposed last year.
The 261-mile rail line would allow trains to bypass Chicago’s congested rail yards, company officials have said. The route would start in Milton, run south and then head west between Beloit and Janesville. It then turns south again through the town of Beloit before crossing into Illinois.
Opponents of the project thought the Surface Transportation Board would respond to the company’s request for confidentiality by Monday, but the board did not.
Spreitzer wrote that he didn’t think the project was realistic because Great Lakes Basin has not produced documentation on financing.
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, raised similar concerns about the lack of transparency and the completeness of the application.
She also blasted the company’s decision to reveal a toll road and airport project at the last minute.
Great Lakes Basin President Frank Patton announced plans to build a tollway and a new Chicago-area airport when the company submitted its application.
Those additions changed the project’s price tag from $8 billion—the cost Patton originally quoted—to $2.8 billion, according to the application.
The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago environmental advocacy group, has filed a request to extend the public comment period on the confidentiality order by 15 days and to extend the comment period on the application by 55 days.
The request states there is no urgency for a decision on the protective order and that the public could benefit from an extended comment period.
The advocacy group also filed a request to become a party of record and a motion of intent to participate in the process, said Kevin Brubaker, deputy director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
“The Environmental Law and Policy Center has grave concerns about this project. This 261-mile-long railroad proposal could fundamentally alter the shape of development in northeastern Illinois and Wisconsin,” Brubaker told The Gazette.