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Hey, Wisconsin! How’s it going?  Remember how a week ago today we has this thing called an election? Remember how 52% of you decided to vote Republican everything, no matter how vapid and insane the Republican candidate appeared to be? Dear, Wisconsin, I have a question: What did you mean by that?  Did 52% of you mean, by voting that way, that you don’t want there to by high-speed rail in Wisconsin? Or did 52% of you vote Republican for a litany of variant hopes and fears that may or may not had anything to with high-speed rail. My guess is that it is probably the latter.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good way to know how many people were thinking about rail when they connected their arrow to Scott Walker last Tuesday.  High speed rail was not part of any exit polling data I’ve seen. Moreover, before the election, polling on the high-speed rail project was limited.  The most recent poll on this issue was the St. Norbert’s poll, which came out around mid-October.  In October 44% of respondents were in favor of rail.  What’s striking is that, of this group of respondents, 60% said they would probably never take the train. Chances are many of the people polled live nowhere near the proposed line or stations. What if a similar survey were to concentrate on the areas of the state most likely to use the train: Southern and Western Wisconsin? Why do we poll statewide on local infrastructure questions?  What approval rate would we see in statewide polls if questions were to be asked about local highway and interstate expansions? We don’t normally ask those questions; why did we ask such questions about the train project? Oh, I answered that one myself. Because the train project became a campaign issue! Why was that again?

Behind these questions is a deep, deep concern: Wisconsin may lose it’s high-speed train.  For those of you not in the know, last year Wisconsin bid for and won $810 million of federal recovery act funds to build a high-speed rail line that would run from Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison and (a few years later) eventually on to Minneapolis. This is a line that does not currently exist and has long been supported by people from both parties (including Republican former Governor, Tommy Thompson).  Last Tuesday, Wisconsin elected Scott Walker as our next Governor. Scott Walker has consistently said he does not support the train project and claims that his election victory means that 52% of Wisconsin voters also want to kill the train.  But is that actually true? And at what cost do we end this project?

Those are the questions that we need to answer right now, Wisconsin.  Governor Doyle has made it clear that the decision on the rail project now ultimately rests with Governor-elect Walker.  But should Walker choose to the end the project, it will have catastrophic implications on our infrastructure and economy.  Not only will Wisconsin have no high-speed train (which will improve our transportation infrastructure and help commerce), but we will be on the hook to the feds for $14 million we’ve already spent and another $80 million for other projects and upgrades.  Further, Wisconsin will immediately lose 400 jobs and will say goodbye to the additional 4,000 to be created during the construction phase of the project.

In light of these numbers, why would anyone want to end this infrastructure project? Walker has said that he wants the feds to allow the high-speed rail money to come to Wisconsin as road money–as he believes it would be better spent that way.  But this argument willfully ignores the fact that this money is, by law, designated as rail money.  Designating this money to sometime else would require an act of congress.  Further, the US DOT, has said that it will not allow Wisconsin to use the money for anything but trains, and should Wisconsin refuse to use its money for that purpose it will be given to another state.  Both New York and Illinois have already said they will gladly take our rail funding.  Even fellow Republicans admit that congress is far more likely to give the funds to another state for than to reappropriate the money as road funding.  Does Gov-elect Walker really think that his election meant voters would be okay with giving our jobs and money to New York or *cough* Illinois?

Further, Walker has claimed that he doesn’t want Wisconsin to be on the hook for the estimated $7.5 million annual upkeep cost for the rail line.  But this $7.5 million is really a drop in the bucket of what the state spends on road upkeep every year.  In the current state budget, the state DOT receives $200 million for road maintenance and repair.  This money is designated for projects that do not receive any federal support. We also get money from the feds for upkeep and repair. And, yes, this all taxpayer money, too. Roads aren’t free, either. Further, federal and state officials have both strongly hinted that many of the rail upkeep costs could be picked up by the federal government.  BREAKING: And Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has said Madison is willing to help off-set the state’s operating costs for the project, while Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he will sue the state if it does not go through with the project. (The reason why he wants to sue is because Milwaukee has put capital of its own in the project–a Milwaukee train manufacturer has already said it will leave the state if Wisconsin ends the project.)

Wisconsin, this is our opportunity to tell our Governor-elect that we want rail jobs to stay here in Wisconsin and that we rail is important part of our infrastructure. High-speed passenger rail holds great promise to reduce congestion and improve commerce along the rail line.  Many people and organizations have voiced support for the train in recent days, I hope you will consider joining them.

Here are links of interest (I hope to update as the issue progresses):

Advocacy

Stand Up For Trains (Midwest High Speed Rail Association–has links to their Facebook page and encourage word of mouth advocacy)

Forward Lookout (Progressive Blog, lays out strong arguments to refute common anti-rail misconceptions)

Save the Train – Wisconsin Facebook Group

Community Support

Watertown Chamber of Commerce

League of Women Voters

Citizen Action of Wisconsin

Sierra  Club of Wisconsin

Downtown Madison Inc

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (Also here and here)

Editorials

Wisconsin State Journal – Get Past Rail Rhetoric to Reality

Hands on Wisconsin: Walker’s great train robbery

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – There are Jobs at Stake

Capital Times – High-speed rail essential to Wisconsin’s economic renewal

The Sheboygan Press – Let’s look at big picture on rail line

La Crosse Tribune – Let’s hope Walker changes mind on rail

Watertown Daily Times – The high-speed train issue

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Questionable Dealing

Letters to the Editor

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Build the Train

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – It’s time to catch up; Muddled editorial thinking; Saying no is madness


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