Iowa City-North Liberty passenger rail study chugs along, considers cost benefit

NORTH LIBERTY ? A study of the feasibility of adding passenger rail to the Corridor remains on track.

During a Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County meeting this week in North Liberty, local elected officials agreed to proceed with the third phase of feasibility studies of a passenger rail service connecting Iowa City and North Liberty.

?We feel it?s an asset. We want to investigate it as much as possible,? Coralville City Council member Tom Gill said. ?This is a key connection between Coralville and Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty. We?re right in the middle, we want to go ahead with it.?

Officials from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, University of Iowa and city councils in Iowa City, North Liberty and University Heights also expressed interest in further study.

As with the first two studies, the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway, or CRANDIC, have agreed to pay two-thirds of the study?s cost, with local entities responsible for the remainder. The cost per entity has usually been around $3,000 to $4,000.

The last study put the cost of an Iowa City to North Liberty passenger rail service at about $40 million to build out.

The upcoming study will include a cost-benefit analysis, financial plan, operation and maintenance oversight, and proposed station stops, said Brad Neumann, assistant transportation planner with the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Iowa City Council members Susan Mims and others on Wednesday expressed interest in having the study look into the feasibility of using the stretch of railroad between the two cities as a pedestrian trail.

Neumann said the Iowa DOT, which has allocated federal rail funds to its third of the project, would likely not fund the trail portion of the study.

Iowa City Council member Rockne Cole emphasized his desire to stay on track with passenger rail.

?I want to keep our eye on the ball for the rail component,? he said. ?If it can?t be done in this corridor, I don?t think it can be done anywhere in the state of Iowa. I?m not convinced there?s not a demand for it.?

Last fall, an Iowa Department of Transportation study on the impact of alternative modes of transportation on Interstate 380 found a North Liberty-to-Iowa City passenger rail service, with 30-minute headways ? the time between trains ? would see an average workday ridership ranging from 3,200 in 2015 to 6,200 in 2040.

With 130-minute headways, the service would see an estimated 900 average workday riders in 2015 and 2,100 riders in 2040, according to planning organization documents.

While those ridership estimates would not offset future needs for improvements to the nearby ? and congested ? I-380, the service has been identified as a ?natural first phase? for expanded Corridor transit service.

Kim Casko, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a Wednesday news release the passenger rail service, if found feasible, would make the area more attractive to residents and businesses.

?Passenger rail will help to spur further economic development and growth throughout Johnson County and continue to grow our appeal to young professionals across the state, country and world,? he said.