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Will Freeport station help Monroe?
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MONROE -Could a new $8 million transportation hub in Freeport, on an Amtrak line between Dubuque and Chicago, be a boon for Green County?

That's something Anna Schramke, director of the Green County Development Corporation, says the county could start looking at next year.

"We hadn't looked into it much because it was just being proposed," Schramke said. "But, of course, there are a lot of ways it could help us in Green County."

Freeport is working to obtain the required capital to create the multimodal transportation hub, which will utilize "Building E" of the existing Rawleigh Complex, a five-building, 450,000-square-foot former manufacturing complex on a mixed-use site in downtown Freeport.

The Blackhawk Express Amtrak Line from Chicago to Dubuque, stopping in Freeport, is expected to start operation in 2014. Freeport is hoping to have the hub completed in the same time frame.

Just 23 miles from Monroe, the Freeport Station Regional Multimodal Hub "will make it a lot easier to get in and out of Chicago," said Shelly Griswold, the community development director for the City of Freeport.

Tolls, time and traffic jams all add to the costs and stress on a trip to Chicago, she said, and then there's parking once you arrive. That's why Freeport is hoping its hub will attract riders from its region of about 90,000 people, between Madison, and Sterling, Ill.

Someone who has business in Chicago can use that extra time on the train to relax or conduct more business, she added. People will be able to access all the benefits of Chicago and still live in the rolling green hills of Wisconsin.

But what kinds of advantages, like tourists and shoppers, would the train bring to Monroe?

Griswold said Freeport would be interested in "working together regionally."

"Monroe has a lot to offer," Griswold said, "and has a lot of very viable opportunities."

After taking the train to Freeport from Dubuque or Chicago, riders will be able to switch to other modes of transportation at the hub, or, in the case of bicycles, bring them along, said Griswold. Besides the Black Hawk Express station, the Freeport hub is expected to become a connection point for Trailways bus lines, the city's bus services and local transit program, and the Jane Addams bike trail. A rental car service, a bicycle shop, a café or other food enterprise, a complete tourist information area and retail shops are also included in the plans.

Though the Amtrak Black Hawk Express is not high-speed rail, Tom Righ of Monroe, a member of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, has been watching its development with interest.

"(The hub) would be good for Monroe," he said.

The Canadian National railway has been upgrading the freight track, and Amtrak plans to run two passenger train sets on the tracks, he said.

The passenger trains could reach speeds up to 80 mph, although feasibility studies show speeds under 60 mph for a major portion of the full route - 182 miles from Chicago to Dubuque.

Righ believes the ease of getting to and from Chicago will appeal to people of all ages in Green County, and the Freeport hub could provide Monroe with some new business opportunities as well.

"Statistics are showing younger people are getting over the hump and actually now prefer not to own a car," he said.

"When the trains used to run, before '83, people went to Chicago more often, to shop and for sporting events," Righ said. "It really opens up the rural area to the city - reopens Chicago."

Today's trains will be equipped with Wi-Fi, he added, making the 3.5 hour train ride, an hour longer than by automobile, seem more bearable.

The Freeport hub will have plenty of parking spaces for personal automobiles, Griswold said. But Righ thinks there might be a business or two in providing shoppers, commuters, tourists and bicyclists with taxis or shuttles to and from downtown Monroe.

"Someone could cash in on all of that," he added. "It would do wonders for downtown Monroe."