The folly of high-speed rail

    President “Green Jobs” Obama’s dream railroad. If you build it, they will come. Cue the New Age sprinkly winkly tinkly. $823 million of steel from Poverty to Destitution. All we have to pay are operational costs. Only a 10-footer to Vagrancy from there.

    Bring back the Vagabond Days. We’ll have company – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California is already pitching Gray Davis’ cardboard tent. Illinois is listing. More are verging. The Nuge can play us a benefit: Intensities in Tent Cities.

    No, public transportation, in any form, has never ever paid its own way. $823 million sounds like a lot, but it won’t come anywhere near. The Walker for Governor campaign is predicting $7.5 million in annual operating costs and promising to derail the plan if elected. His lieutenant governor choice, Rep. Bret Davis, has already authored a bill to ban the plan.

    And now, the Obama Administration has announced more, stringier money. Since $823 million isn’t enough to finish his magic railroad, he will give us more – if only we match every 10 bucks he gives us with $2 of our own. So, if we needed another $823 million, we’d have to pitch in $165 million. That’s roughly $30 for every man, woman, child and elk in Wisconsin. Or we can go with the flow and enact the Forbes 400 Levy – let John Menard, Don Schneider, the Kohler and Johnson families and the Hendricks Estate pay our share.

    Like Paul Ryan once said about Obama, I like the “idea” of high-speed rail. I might support it if it was built with Riordan Metal, the revolutionary plot device from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Or if it actually went high-speed, like it does in China and Japan.

    But it isn’t, it won’t and it can’t. Riordan Metal is an illusion, like stimulus-created jobs.  And population is too dense. Locals won’t permit high speeds. I remember the contentious local hearings when my old boss, Gov. Tommy Thompson, first broached the Madison-Milwaukee line near the turn of the century. Watertown gave us a mild flashback this go ‘round, suggesting the state pay them for lost property value.  

    Besides, Madison and Milwaukee are already too familiar. At a reported average speed of 79 mph, you can fling between those egocentricities faster across I-94. No, if that’s all we get, high-speed rail in Wisconsin is definitely hot rails to hell.

    But, just for fun … Let’s imagine that we have to build it. No choice. Judge Lynn Adelman somehow decides that we are obliged and the U.S. Supreme Court upholds him. Inconceivable, Vizzini tells me. But anyway, just imagine it happens. Then let’s get some wealthy, interested partners and do something novel with it.

    Let’s hypotenuse the state and link attractions. Let’s get tribal support and play musical casinos.
    Begin our hot rails at the Bad River Casino in Beloit. You know Obama is going to say yes. From there, it rolls to the Potawatomi in Milwaukee. Both would be fine destinations for Northlanders and Windy Citiers, if they had a good way of getting there. So, let’s get ‘em there. Both tribes would be glad to pitch in.  

    Next, let’s run our line up to the Rainbow Casino in Nekoosa. There we hit mid-staters – Rapids, Marshfield, Stevens Point – and wrangle some Ho Chunk support. Maybe we make one stop in the middle somewhere, say Beaver Dam, to keep the line swift.

    Then let’s make our final destination the St. Croix Casino. Maybe we stop once just outside Eau Claire to serve a few more travelers before our final glide into Turtle Lake, where the St. Croix will happily cough up a little something for the effort. And we’ve rolled through every Congressional district but the 8th, and who knows what the 2010 Census will bring?

    Turtle Lake might even offer some shuttle busses to Lake of the Torches and points North. Anyhow, from there it is just a sand wedge into the Twin Cities, the proposed endline for Wisconsin’s segment of the president’s magic railroad.

    Then, if the state works with tribes to complete my original vision, the Permiter Plan, locating and linking casinos around the border of Badgerland, this novel use of the hot rails may just give our snowball a chance in hell.


    Tim Haering was a speechwriter and policy advisor to former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. Haering now resides in Concord, Calif.

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