Monthly Archives: June 2009

More on the super high speed train that would bypass Normal

Are you kidding?

A 220 mile per hour bullet train from St. Louis to Chicago would take the most direct route through Springfield and Bloomington-Normal, right?  

Well, not if you’re representing the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.   If you were associated with the MHSPA, you would send the bullet train from St.Louis through Springfield, but then you would veer off to the northeast throught that booming metropolis of Decatur and then on further northeast to Champaign-Urbana, before finally heading due north through Kankakee to Chicago.

You would buy up a lot of right of way and spend more than $11.5 billion before you were all finished.

Sounds like a pipe dream.

Normal will soon be the third busiest Amtrak stop in the Midwest following Chicago and Kansas City, surpassing even St. Louis, yet there's a high speed rail assocation that wants to bypass this community with a 220 mile per hour train.

Normal will soon be the third busiest Amtrak stop in the Midwest following Chicago and Kansas City, surpassing even St. Louis, yet there's a high speed rail assocation that wants to bypass this community with a 220 mile per hour train.

In the report promoting the idea, the engineers said a western route through Bloomington-Normal wouldn’t be as feasible.

The current Amtrak routing from Chicago to St. Louis travels through the Bloomington/Normal area to Springfield. South of Springfield the service travels southwest passing through Alton and into St. Louis. This route is programmed for upgrading to a maximum speed of 110 mph in current plans and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been completed for the upgrading. Train service with a maximum speed of 110 mph has been defined as “Emerging HSR” in the US DOT HSR strategic plan.  The Western Routing takes the most direct alignment from Chicago to Springfield. It serves Illinois State University and is only 40 miles from Peoria. Upgrading to 220 mph service in this corridor from 110 mph will face a significant hurdle in the segment from Downtown Chicago to Joliet which will necessitate construction of complex and expensive infrastructure. Currently this corridor is constrained with commuter rail, freight railroads, Interstate 55 and two waterways.  Proposed spacing for the added track is too tight to permit higher speeds. Construction of a right-of-way wide enough for high speed rail will require relocation of many of these elements which will significantly increase potential costs.

I have a feeling that there’s a lot more to the proposed eastern alignment than track spacing and right of way concerns in the Chicago area.

Whoever came up with this idea was thinking.  This new $11.5 billion route would also stop at the proposed third Chicago airport at Peotone before heading downtown and then out to O’Hare.  Champaign and Decatur each have inadequate airports and a 220 mile per hour train would put airline passengers who might otherwise be inclined to fly out of Central Illinois Regional Airport less than 50 minutes to the third airport.

Of course this is all many years away,  if it ever occurs.

Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune quoted a more than skeptical IDOT, which appears to  be committed to improving our line for 110 mile per hour trains.

Construction of IDOT’s 110-m.p.h. plan from  Chicago  to St. Louis is estimated to cost $2 billion, officials said.

But the association’s study said the straight and level railroad alignments in Illinois provide “ideal conditions for implementing fast operation at reasonable cost.”

IDOT officials said they are reviewing the association’s feasibility study, but at first glance, they questioned whether the $11.5 billion estimate wasn’t too low.

“Our goal is to get to 110 m.p.h. within three to four years. The 220-m.p.h. plan would likely take up to 20 years or more to complete,” IDOT spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said.

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Normal, Bloomington, McLean County agree to consider new regional comprehensive plan

The meeting was more symbolism than substance.

The mayors of Normal and Bloomington and the McLean County board chairman say they are committed to meet on the occasional fifth Monday of the month when it makes sense.

And in this case it made sense because the topic of discussion was “sensible growth.”

A birds-eye view from my seat at the joint meeting Monday night of the Normal Town Council, McLean County Board, and the Bloomington City Council.  We heard a presentation on the draft countywide Regional Comprehensive Plan.   I met two McLean County Board members at the meeting including former Normal Community and Central Catholic football coach John McIntyre and George Wendt, who represents a mostly rural county board district.

A birds-eye view from my seat at the joint meeting Monday night of the Normal Town Council, McLean County Board, and the Bloomington City Council. We heard a presentation on the draft countywide Regional Comprehensive Plan. I met two McLean County Board members at the meeting including former Normal Community and Central Catholic football coach John McIntyre and George Wendt, who represents a mostly rural county board district.

Monday night’s get together at the old Champion Federal building, now called the Government Center, was called to discuss a draft of the new McLean County Regional Comprehensive Plan.  

More than two years in the making, the draft “comp plan” replaces an outdated 1999 document that did not envision the surprising population growth reflected in the 2005 special Bloomington and Normal censuses and the equally stunning 2007-09 economic downturn, which has increased local unemployment, depressed retail sales, and generated flat property values and scores of foreclosures.

The plan attempts to gaze 25 years into the future and projects a 2035 countywide population of  234,280, up more than 68,000 people from today’s population.

The plan calls for the following initiatives:

  • Identify communities, neighborhoods, and business districts to be targeted for revitalization activities and funding;
  • Create an inventory of historic resources throughout the county to provide an improved basis for preservation;
  • Consider alternatives for local governments to share costs and revenues from property and sales tax revenues resulting from future economic development;
  • Explore costs, benefits, and alternatives for providing less expensive housing throughout the community;
  • Investigate the creation of a transit district to support expanded and enhanced bus service throughout the metro area;
  • Review the current structure of development fees to help ensure efficiency and equity in providing community facilities and services  throughout McLean County.

Among the more provocative recomendations is the call for so-called “inclusionary housing.”   Unless new single family homeowners are fully aware that it’s happening, that concept tends to go over like a lead balloon.  Still, I agree it’s worth taking a serious look at.

As you might imagine, there are calls for developing regional water supplies and distribution systems, sharing emergency services resources, preserving farmland, and planning for future school locations and parks.

The plan now goes to the Normal and Bloomington planning commissions and the McLean County zoning and land use committee for consideration and public input.   I will post it when it becomes available on line.

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Filed under Development, planning, Uncategorized

Albert’s ABs to be finally broadcast on Comcast HD

Albert Pujols is the best player in Major League Baseball.

Albert lights up Lights Out Lidge in the classic at bat in Houston that kept the Cardinals' 2005 NLCS playoff hopes alive for another day.  The ball is still bouncing around Minute Maid Park, or whatever they call it.

Albert lights up Lights Out Lidge in the classic at bat in Houston that kept the Cardinals' 2005 NLCS playoff hopes alive for another day. The ball is still bouncing around Minute Maid Park, or whatever they call it.

If I happen to be flipping aimlessly around the channels, and Albert happens to be up, I stay tuned.

Albert’s at bats are that compelling.  He rarely gets cheated or fooled.   It’s fun to watch him face pitchers who he absolutely owns.

Unfortunately, this year it’s pretty difficult to find the Cardinals on cable, let alone the NL’s reigning MVP and leading homerun hitter.   Not only can’t I consistently find the Cardinals on Comcast, when I think I’ve found them, a poker tournament or some bad sports highlight show is on instead.

Now word from Comcast (possibly the best news from Comcast ever) that they have negotiated a deal with Fox Sports Midwest  to broadcast the Cardinals in HD on Channel 959 beginning July 30.  

“This channel will be available to all customers who currently subscribe to Comcast Classic Cable and have an HD service with Comcast,” said Comcast District Director John Neibur.

For suffering Cardinals fans/Comcast customers, it’s about time. 

Thanks to all of you who complained and to Comcast for listening.

 

  

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First day of summer brings hard hitting ice cream poll

Hope all the dads enjoyed their day.  

Emack & Bolio's in Uptown Normal used to occasionally feature oatmeal ice cream, which quickly became a Nielsen family favorite.

Emack & Bolio's in Uptown Normal used to occasionally feature oatmeal ice cream, which quickly became a Nielsen family favorite.

In his card to me, my son thanked me for hauling him around town from activity to activity.   What an appreciative kid!  My daughter gave me a gag gift — a tie out of my closet.   What a funny girl!   She’s already learned the art of regifting.  My wife came through with a gift certificate to Starbucks.   That’s what will hit the spot tomorrow morning.  Thanks Dayna!

We dined out with some good friends, and because it was Fathers Day I felt empowered to splurge for some desert — a slice of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  Freezer problems caused the ice cream to melt a bit, but it was good.

With this being the first official weekend of summer, I thought we’d start the summer out with something really light — a Just About Normal poll.

When it’s time to round up your family to grab some ice cream, where do you go first?

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Filed under Just About Normal Polls, Uncategorized

CVB ROI not fuzzy math

Okay, I fell asleep in my chair before I could answer Elizabeth the other day with a post explaining how the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau calculates its amazing 11 to 1 return on investment.

It’s easy.

Nothing Fuzzy About The Math: The new business this property will generate through the direct efforts of the CVB will increase the bureau's remarkable 11 to 1 return on investment.

Nothing Fuzzy About The Math: The new business this property will generate through the direct efforts of the CVB will increase the bureau's remarkable 11 to 1 return on investment.

The marketing efforts of the CVB created 44,010 room nights in Bloomington-Normal hotel properties in 2008.   More than 10,00o of those rooms were attributable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings at the Coliseum. 

Again, CVB doesn’t take credit for every hotel room sold in the Twin Cities, only the ones that hard working CVB staff members are directly involved in generating.   Working closely with the local hotel-motel industry, they keep track of that number.  

Multiple those 44,010 room nights by $129.   That’s the number the State of Illinois Bureau of Tourism says is spent by the average overnight visitor. 

CVB executive director Crystal Howard told the Normal Town Council last Monday night that her research has put that number much higher.    I spend more than my fair share of time on the road.  I can tell you that you don’t have to be a big spender to eclipse the $129 figure.

That’s as conservative as it goes.

When you do the math, the total is $5,677,290.   

Divide that by the amount of hotel-motel tax receipts that go to the bureau ($511,468) and you end up with a return on investment of $11 in local visitor spending for every local tax dollar the CVB spends.

It’s that simple.   The ratio is probably higher.

Either way, Elizabeth, I hope you’ll agree it’s a good investment.

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Filed under Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

By the turn of the century Normal residents might become snowbirds without leaving home

In their push to get a climate bill through the House, the Obama Administration released a study showing that without any efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, residents of Normal might someday feel like they’re living in east Texas.

There's a Normal, Illinois and a Normal, Alabama, but the climatologists say Normal, IL will seem like Louisiana or East Texas in 2100, if little or nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There's a Normal, Illinois and a Normal, Alabama, but the climatologists say Normal, IL will seem like Louisiana or east Texas in 2100, if little or nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Now that I’ve sucked you in with a snappy headline and interesting graphic, I can tell you that …

I’m not a fan of Waxman-Markey. 

In fact, the recent (hopefully temporary) reduction in posts on this blog are directly attributable to me working longer hours lobbying against a bill (H.R. 2454)  that was not well thought out and based on unrealistically rosy projections by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cap and trade will likely dramatically push up electric rates, if not in the near future, certainly over the next 20 years.   We will also pay much more for fuel and food, as energy costs escalate.   If we’re going to rely more on nuclear energy, then we better start cutting some of the red tape associated with siting nuclear reactors.     

If the French can do it, so can we.

If we’re ever going to wean ourselves off carbon, then FutureGen better get funded and under construction quickly so we can determine whether its carbon capture sequestration technology (“clean coal”)  is commercially feasible on a large scale.

Because without either of these major sources of energy coming on line in a big way over the next decade, we will become heavily dependent on natural gas (which the federal government has locked away off our own shores and in non-park federal lands), energy prices will spike, and the Waxman-Markey house of cards will collapse sinking our economy.

It’s an example of the cure being as bad or worse than the problem.

I’ll concede that biomass and solar can provide part of the solution.   Wind can provide part of the solution, if you’re in a windy place and located along the transmission line like eastern McLean County and other areas of our state.    But let’s get realistic about how much these renewable sources can contribute. 

There are limits.     

When it comes to reducing tailpipe emissions, corn-based ethanol reduces them by 60 percent over regular unleaded, but intellectuals on both sides of the political spectrum snub their nose at our most plentiful renewable, domestically produced fuel and continue to invent reasons for it to disappear.  Soy-based biodiesel is also being unfairly kicked to the curb.

Folks, without first generation renewable fuels, we’ll never get to the second or third generation.  

What’s the alternative?   You might find riding in the little golf cart — I mean electric car — as harrowing as I did.    With millions of cars on the road, the cash for clunkers program would have to go into overdrive.   I’m not ready to give up my SUV, and driving around town, neither are you. 

In Waxman-Markey, the balance between international and domestic carbon offsets is curious.   It’s amazing there are no rewards in the bill for farmers who sequester millions of tons of carbon every year during the growing season and reduce their use of nitrogen with no-till crop production.   The policymakers are telling them: “thanks for your efforts at capturing carbon, but we’d rather spend billions paying other countries to plant trees.”

The mad rush to get Waxman-Markey passed in record time is dangerous.   It’s as if the sponsors are intentionally working quickly so that the proper economic analysis can’t be done and the public won’t figure out what’s going on until it’s too late. 

The economic assumptions in Waxman-Markey assume a perfect world where new energy technologies automatically become available on demand, and well, we know better.  

I applaud several downstate Illinois members of Congress including Tim Johnson and Debbie Halvorson for raising questions and not jumping on the Waxman-Markey bandwagon. 

We’re biting off way more than we can chew with this bill. 

Let’s put aside the ideology that’s driving cap-and-trade, take our time and focus on the clean energy puzzle one piece at a time.

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B-N Convention and Visitors Bureau generates an 11 to 1 return on investment

We don’t have an ocean or mountains, or even a really significant stream in these parts, but somehow we do attract our fair share of visitors.

In the middle of the cornfields in relatively flat central Illinois, we’ve got three interstate highways, a number of major employers that host an untold number of visitors, institutes of higher education, regional health care providers, and pretty good meeting facilities.

When it opens in late August or early September, the Uptown Normal Conference Center's 20,000 square feet of usable conference space can host a banquet for 1,600 attendees.

When it opens in late August or early September, the Uptown Normal Conference Center's 20,000 square feet of usable conference space can host a banquet for 1,600 attendees.

It doesn’t hurt to be the home of the Illinois High School Association and a number of outstanding sports venues, like Champion Fields, U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Redbird Arena, the Shirk Center and the fifth best public golf courses in the country.

Or the home to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Children’s Discovery Museum, or the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

At the center of it all is the staff of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.   Our CVB takes a portion of the hotel-motel tax receipts collected in this community and turns them into even more economic activity.

For every $1 invested in the BNACVB, $11.18 is returned to the local economy.

That’s a tremendous return on investment.  I can’t think of a more efficient use of tax dollars.   The resources that go into marketing the community for overnight stays, business meetings, religious gatherings, and high school and youth sporting events are one of purest forms of local economic development.

In Normal, a portion of the locally generated hotel-motel tax dollars pays for Uptown redevelopment.   When the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center opens in late August or early September, the tax revenues generated from the thousands of overnight guests will be plowed back into Uptown and into the the CVB, where they will be bring an 11 to 1 return.

Bloomington and Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff booked 200 groups in the community last year representing 44,010 room nights.

All that without a riverboat casino.

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