State Legislature could ‘just say no’ to high-speed rail

    Some state legislators are already complaining about the strings that will come attached to the $810 million in federal stimulus money to connect Madison and Milwaukee by passenger rail.

    The gripe for those like Sen. Alberta Darling (R-Menomonee Falls) is that Wisconsin cannot afford the ongoing operational subsidies that would be required for a new train line.

    So could Wisconsin "Just Say No" to high-speed rail?

    Yes, says Chris Klein of the state Department of Transportation.

    "It will have to go through Joint Finance," the budget controlling committee of the Legislature, he notes.
    And the Legislature could say, "We don’t want no stinkin’, half-empty, traffic clogging, whistle-blowing train just so Madison libs can feel good about themselves."

    But rejecting the rail funds would mean the federal money is lost and could not be applied to other transportation uses.

    "The money is a grant, like any other grant," says Klein. "It is for a specific purpose."

    The question, of course, is how much would it cost the state each year to operate the Madison-Milwaukee train including repairs, maintenance and purchase of replacement equipment.

    Klein says those figures have not been calculated and won’t be known until further down the road.
    But he notes that all modes of transportation in Wisconsin – buses, highways, bicycles, harbors, etc. – are subsidized through the state’s $6.8 billion transportation fund.

    And to put the cost of new highways in perspective, adding one lane to Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois line is costing $1.9 billion – twice the cost of the rail line.

    Still, given all the train skeptics out there, you wonder if somebody like Republican Scott Walker will try to make it an issue in the governor’s race.

    Mike Ivey is a columnist with The Cap Times in Madison (Blog used with permission.)

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