By Bob Balgemann
BOONE COUNTY – A new rail line that would create a bypass around the city of Chicago to ease congestion – with part of its route going through eastern Boone County – will be discussed at public meetings in late March or early April.
The rail line will start in Milton, Wis., and end in Michigan City, Ind., traveling through the Capron and Garden Prairie areas.
The purpose of freeing up rail space is to “expedite freight movements across the nation and provide additional capacity for growing railroad traffic,” according to a statement on the Great Lakes Basin Railroad’s website.
Dates and times for the public meetings, to be held in the Boone County and Rockford areas, will be announced in mid-March. They will be hosted by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which will have final say over the fate of the proposal.
The STB will take public comment and review it over a specific time period before moving toward a decision.
More immediately, the project was discussed at Tuesday’s county roads committee meeting and at Wednesday night’s meeting of the county planning, zoning and building committee. Both started at 6 p.m. at the county building, at 1212 Logan Ave. in Belvidere.
Google Earth maps of the route should be available within 30 to 60 days, said Frank Patton, president and chief executive officer of Great Lakes Basin Train Corporation. The maps will be at greatlakesbasin.net or on the STB website.
With some groundwork already being done, he is optimistic that the proposal will be approved.
Environmental study
An environmental review was done of the entire route, he said, with only 60 acres of wetlands being found. The company will mitigate 30 of those acres with bridges.
Another step was having officials from the Office of Economics, Environmental Analysis and Administration (OEEAA), enforcement arm of the STB, tour the proposed route.
Railroad 2During an initial meeting with OEEAA staff, Patton said the chairman “assigned herself to the project. She said that was the highest priority she could give us. So, we got on their list. I was floored.”
During the site visit officials toured the Milton, Rockford and Boone County areas on their way to the end of the line. That happened in November 2015, not the spring of 2016 as expected, he said.
Those representatives expressed concern about environmental issues in the original starting point, Broadhead, Wis., he explained. So, Mile Zero since has been moved to Milton, Wis., with the revised route covering 281.22 miles
OEEAA also must approve the project. Preliminary work is continuing.
“We want to be as thorough as possible before the public meetings,” Patton said.
Earlier discussion
Earlier, there was discussion during the end of the Feb. 17 county board meeting, when little was known about the project or its route.
Board Chairman Bob Walberg called it “rumor control” time and not part of the agenda. Nothing concrete came out of the discussion.
Concern previously had been expressed at a meeting in Leroy Township, county board member Cathy Ward said. She said the list included safety, noise, and possible impact on their taxes.
She added that those behind the project should be aware a committee of opposition likely had already been formed in that area.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people on the north side of the county who don’t want this,” she said.
Walberg’s primary concern was the county board “won’t have any say in this, like with the (natural gas) pipeline.”
He said it likely would be up to “every property owner to make the best decision he can.”
Key players in the project are the STB and OEEAA.
STB, created in 1996, is under the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Board member Sherry Giesecke said it was her understanding “that this is not a done deal. It’s (Boone County) just another possible route. There are a lot of wetlands up there and that could stop it.”

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