High-speed rail will reap high-speed spending

    U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently stood next to Gov. Jim Doyle in Watertown to announce that, “High-speed rail is coming to Wisconsin” and “There’s no stopping it.”

    It is obvious that Washington has not gotten the message that Wisconsin is tired of the hair-brained programs that will cost Wisconsinites millions of dollars each year. The high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison is one such bad idea.  Wisconsin is facing a $2.5 billion budget deficit this year, yet the federal government and Governor Doyle are forcing us to spend money on a project that we cannot afford.

    In response to Secretary LaHood’s visit to Wisconsin, I sent him a letter detailing my grievances with the high-speed rail line that, according to the Secretary and the Governor, Wisconsin cannot stop. The high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison is estimated to lose more than $8 million per year by 2013. This is not fuzzy math dreamed up by those opposed to the project – these are the actual estimates in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation 2009 high-speed rail grant application. A recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put the annual cost for Wisconsinites at $10 million. Governor Doyle, Secretary LaHood and Wisconsin Department of Transportation need to provide us with the actual financial obligation for Wisconsin before they commence construction.

    Another alarming figure is the estimated fare which, according to the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, is expected to be high as $60 per passenger. For a family of four to make the 150 mile roundtrip ride from Milwaukee to Madison it will cost as much $240. These numbers, in addition to the loss of taxpayer money, will do nothing to encourage ridership. It makes no sense to force this project upon Wisconsinites when is it clear that it will not be cost effective. Again, the leaders who are requiring Wisconsinites to accept this project need to provide us with the actual cost of a ticket before they force it upon us.

    Secretary LaHood stated that the Milwaukee-Madison line is a “national program.”  Unfortunately, this statement is true because the federal government has mandated that Wisconsin build high-speed rail, regardless of the long term cost to the taxpayers of Wisconsin. Secretary LaHood and Governor Doyle have little regard for the concerns expressed by Wisconsinites about this project.

    Secretary LaHood’s comments are confusing because they are contrary to what he supported when he was elected to Congress in 1994. As a Congressman, Mr. LaHood supported the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act of 1995 and spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives of the need for a balanced budget amendment. Yet, as Wisconsin is facing a budget that is far from balanced, he and the President are forcing Wisconsinites to foot the bill on another federally mandated program.  I have been adamant in my opposition to federally mandated programs because the burden they place on the backs of Wisconsin taxpayers.

    I encourage Secretary LaHood to take a second look at what is happening in Wisconsin before he bullies Wisconsinites into accepting another federal mandate. However, I have not received a response from Secretary LaHood, and I have little cause to be hopeful that he and Governor Doyle will think twice about this costly venture.


    U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) represents Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District.

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