News! So much news regarding the train today.  It seems that all of the constituent letters, phone calls, petitions, Facebook likes, letters from businesses, editorials and now rallies have made an impact on our Governor-elect.  Today it’s been reported that he is open to other rail projects being funded with the $810 million designated to start a high-speed rail extension from Milwaukee to Madison and then on to Minneapolis.  He is even open to using the money to improve the Empire Builder line (a passenger rail line that travels 30 miles north of Madison) into a high-speed passenger rail line. But he is not open to the train being connected to Madison.

Some people are hopeful that this is a sign Gov-elect Walker may be willing to compromise on the rail project and build the line after all, but I fear this should be viewed as nothing but politicking at its worst.  I fear that Walker may be calculating that if he can somehow use the money in some way that avoids improving Madison’s infrastructure (he knows it can’t be roads) then he can claim Wisconsin did not lose jobs AND claim he never built a rail line to Madison. For Walker this might seem like a “win-win” scenario. Unfortunately, for the people of Wisconsin, it would be a “lose-lose.”

As has been stated over and over again in this blog and elsewhere, the purpose of the rail project is to spend the money connecting city centers across the Midwest.  More “destination” cities in the rail system equal more possible riders.  For this money to be most effective it must be used to connect as many larger cities as possible.  It is imperative for the entire rail system in Wisconsin that Madison is connected. Here are some reasons why:

1. Madison is large and growing

Although it might be hard for people to believe, Madison is no longer a small cow town filled with people grooving out in pot circles.  Madison is all about growth and commerce. According to 2009 estimates, over a quarter of a million people live inside the City of Madison and its metro area includes 500,000 people.   For many years, Madison and its metro area have been one of the fastest growing in the state (generally only outdone by the Wisconsin counties that border Minneapolis).  Madison is the second largest city  in Wisconsin and its metro area encompasses 10% of the state’s total population.

2. Madison is the state capital

Yes, Madison is the state capital of Wisconsin and for that very reason alone it should be high-speed rail destination.  Madison has a constantly reshuffling supply of tourists, business people, politicians, lobbyists coming from all over the state to visit the State Capitol building.

3. Largest and finest university in the state

Madison is also home to one of the nation’s premier public universities with 40,000 undergraduate students.  As those of us who studied there know, Madison students generally don’t have cars. UW students live off public transportation, bikes, and their little, adorable feet.  UW-Madison also draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to Madison from anything from research symposiums to sporting events.  Remember the last time you came from Milwaukee to watch a Badger football game and got totally drunk–wouldn’t a train have been nice?

4. Businesses Galore

Believe it or not, we aren’t all state employees. Madison is home to a number of major businesses: American Family Insurance, Alliant Energy, Pacific  Cycles, Cuna Mutual, Rayovac (Spectrum Brands), Epic, Sonic  Foundry,  UW Health and many other companies have offices in Madison: Google and Microsoft being two well-known examples.  There are also countless start-ups stemming from research taking place at the University.  In 2010, Forbes ranked Madison the 7th most innovative city in the country. Kiplinger ranked Madison as the 7th best city to live and work in the country. CNN Money ranked Madison the 20th best city to launch a businesses.  Businesses are here.  Businesses are coming here. Don’t you want other communities to be connected to and benefit from our growth?

5. Tourism and Conventions

Madison’s university, sporting events, businesses, conventions, recreational opportunities and festivals draw millions of visitors a year.  As someone who tries to walk on Madison’s cramped summer streets–I know.  Seriously, I’m sure some of these folks in this picture came from Milwaukee, Minneapolis or Chicago or want to go to one of those cities one day:

Let me reiterate again, for the entire rail line to be the most viable, it should be connected to larger cities.  The closest train station to Madison is a 40 minute drive away in Columbus. Don’t get me wrong, Columbus is a beautiful town that is full of great people, all 5,000 of them.  But if we build a train, shouldn’t we make sure that taxpayer money is spent on a train that will be as successful as possible.  It doesn’t make any sense to use all of that money to rebuild a rail line that already exists in a way that won’t have much effect on ridership. And in the mean time, Madison still won’t have a station and some day taxpayers will probably have to pay money again just to finally connect the line to Madison.  The money is there now. Let’s use it for what it’s been budgeted for.

Also, all of the environmental impact statements and research have been done for a line going to Madison.  All of that would need to be reworked (that costs money, like millions of dollars) should the new high-speed rail line not go through Madison.  Just something else to think about.  Frankly, I agree with all those conservatives out there. Let’s be wise with our money.  Let’s build the train through Madison.