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County informally agrees to support high-speed rail study

– High-speed rail gained another supporter Friday as the Allen County commissioners informally agreed to contribute $50,000 toward an environmental study.

Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association officials asked the county to help pay for Indiana’s half of the $2 million study needed to advance a rail line from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago. The proposal calls for high-speed trains that can whisk passengers at 110 mph from Fort Wayne to Chicago or Columbus in less than two hours.

If the $2 million is raised by the other cities and states along the route, it would pay for an 18-month, three-state study, which is required before federal officials will consider paying for 80 percent of the rail project, estimated at $1.2 billion, or about $5 million a mile. New expressways, including the Interstate 69 extension, cost about $20 million a mile.

Commissioner Nelson Peters said county officials just need to figure out which fund to take the money from, though he suspects it will come from county economic development income taxes.

“This is a very intriguing project,” Peters said. “I think we need to go back and see where the appropriate pocket to pull from is.”

He said the commissioners will likely see a formal spending proposal next week or the week after.

In December, the Fort Wayne City Council made an informal commitment of $200,000 toward the study. The council might consider a formal proposal Tuesday.

The informal vote drew more than 100 people to the council chambers. Word is already spreading on social media for Tuesday’s meeting, though no agenda has been issued yet.

Rich Davis, consultant for the rail association, said half of Indiana’s cost could be covered by the Indiana Department of Transportation, which is considering matching local money raised toward the study.

If all goes as planned, the Chicago-Columbus line could be fully operational by 2020, said Fred Lanahan, president of the rail association.