Not that everyone loves the idea. At a recent public hearing in Belvidere, near Rockford, some 400 people showed to say the train line would be dangerous in their areas, and would impact farms and groundwater. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board held a series of hearings on the proposed railroad, and took public comment through the middle of June. The board will issue an environmental impact statement, followed by more public hearings. A final impact statement is likely two to three years away, and then the Surface Transportation Board must approve the railroad before construction could begin.
Not only does new infrastructure require large sums of money, it often involves a lengthy process involving federal and local agencies as well as local residents and local officials. As has been noted by multiple commentators, this can make infrastructure projects very difficult to construct. By the time all the hoops have been jumped through, the money secured, and bids and plans approved, a significant amount of time has passed. At the same time, not all major infrastructure projects are worthwhile. I’m thinking particularly of highways in major cities, like along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the elevated highway in Boston which was replaced in the Big Dig, or the Lower Manhattan Expressway that was never built. So, we have a system that slows down the process, which helps in some circumstances and is burdensome in others.
This is a reminder that perhaps the best way to deal with all of this is to have good foresight. Plan ahead and fewer residents might be affected, costs are lower, and society can benefit from the infrastructure for longer. When governments or private firms wait – for lack of funds, lack of need, political pressure – the construction only becomes more difficult.