The gateway to a high-speed future is bypassing Wisconsin

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Well, we as federal taxpayers will be helping to pay some more interest on borrowed money and will be paying money directly to the U.S. government for upgrades to the Midwest High Speed Rail System, none of which will occur in Wisconsin.

Even though we’d rather see the U.S. government slow down and defer its spending on high-speed rail, it nonetheless is proceeding.

Probably not surprisingly, since Wisconsin declined to accept $815 million from the Feds earlier, its request for $200+ million to improve the Amtrak route from Chicago to Milwaukee and improve Milwaukee’s downtown Intermodal Station was not included among the awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Midwest.

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We can feel good, though, since the state will save upwards of $7.5 million (or was it maybe only $750,00)?) in operating expenses annually beginning in a few years when the Milwaukee-to-Madison extension of the Midwest High Speed Rail System would have gone into existence. These savings undoubtedly will enhance our competitive position vs. other metropolitan areas in the Midwest.

So, let’s see, YOUR money (I’m assuming that you are among the 53 percent of people who pay federal income taxes plus are a driver who is paying gas taxes) is being spent so that:
1) The trains between Chicago and Detroit and cities in between will have faster routes.
2) The trains between Chicago and St. Louis and cities in between will have faster routes.
3) There might be a new high-speed train route between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minn. (notice that it’s not to Superior, Wis.). So, people in northwestern Wisconsin may travel to Duluth to get to the Twin Cities by train in the future.
4) Ann Arbor, Mich., wants to improve its train station for high-speed and more frequent trains. Gee, that might let people go more quickly between the University of Michigan and Detroit or Chicago.
5) People may work while they are riding along.

Here’s my forecast. Especially so long as Ray LaHood is Transportation Secretary, over time the federal government will look to fund high-speed rail from Chicago to the Quad-Cities and then from there on up to the Twin Cities. Oh, and then on to Duluth

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Wisconsin will stay just where it is and essentially be skipped as part of the Midwest High Speed Rail System. Wisconsin was recently first in line but is probably now almost last in line.

Some day, perhaps the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Amtrak route might be upgraded to a higher speed. But that’s probably not as pressing to the Feds as upgrading speeds over longer routes elsewhere or putting in new routes, especially given the $200+ million that Wisconsin had requested for the upgrade over a relatively short distance.
Not much will go forward.

Meanwhile, here in Wisconsin, despite the votes regionally and the opinions of regional business leaders, the Joint Finance Committee voted to recommend eliminating ALL regional transit associations (which are mostly about buses plus one commuter train), to eliminate funding for intercity bus routes (we already don’t have to worry about intercity trains) and to eliminate state funding for bike and pedestrian lanes on roadways.

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The proposed state budget is reducing funds for mass transit and then will have remaining fundings compete for money from general funds instead of from Transportation Funds.

We’ve already taken care of not having trains between the University of Madison and Milwaukee, so now we only have to figure out how University of Milwaukee students can get around town between campuses safely. Hope that they can afford a car, pay the gas and maintenance and insurance expenses, plus the parking fees. Or the bike rides will be long and sometimes cold. Or perhaps they will choose to enroll elsewhere. There is competition, plus it would reduce tax expenditures.

So, over time, where might businesses and people, especially younger ones, choose to locate? Breadth of transportation choices will make a difference.

But it appears that Wisconsin is working toward only three ways of day-to-day transportation – walking, bike riding and autos. If you’re disabled, tough it out some more. In Wisconsin, perhaps hitch-hiking will make a comeback.


Tom Rave is the executive director of The Gateway to Milwaukee. His opinions are his own and not necessarily the views of the organization.

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