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December 17, 2010

What’s wrong with Wisconsin…and Ohio?

by Nicole Schlosser

What's bad for Wisconsin and Ohio — high-speed rail, according to the states' new Governors — may end up being very good for many other states. Neighboring Indiana and Illinois, as well as California, Washington, New York, Maine, Missouri and maybe even Florida, are reaping a little extra as the FRA redirects Wisconsin and Ohio's rejected millions intended for the rail systems.

While Wisconsin will still get to keep up to $2 million of the federal funds it was awarded for its Amtrak-Hiawatha line, since Governor elect Scott Walker refused to change his mind about turning down federal high-speed rail funds last week, the FRA took the rest of the $810 million and reapportioned it to more appreciative states.

Ohio's governor elect, John Kasich, of a similar mindset, lost his state $400 million. Despite that, the state's rail advocates remain optimistic. As Ken Prendergast, executive director of rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, told reporter Lyndsey Teter of Columbus, Ohio's The Other Paper, "I've watched this project die seven times in 26 years...This is the closest we've gotten, and we get a little closer each time." The article adds that advocates are working to form a Joint Powers Authority, which may be able to legally take over the 3C Corridor project - high-speed rail from Columbus to Cincinnati to Cleveland - with permission from the feds.

Many Wisconsinites, though, are not happy. On Monday, protesters gathered in Milwaukee, claiming that Walker drove away 15,000 jobs when he turned down the funds. The protesters are demanding that Walker include Milwaukee job creation in a special emergency jobs session of the legislature next month, on his first day in office.

This is the second protest of the Governor-elect's rejection of the funds in as many months. Last month, labor leaders and politicians rallied at the Milwaukee plant of Spanish train maker Talgo Inc., which will soon leave the state, and called on Walker to drop his opposition of the project. Speakers argued that an improved train system would boost local commerce and help the environment and that the area needs the jobs.

The Mayor of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, agrees. In a blog post on Thursday, the Mayor discussed Talgo's planned relocation from Milwaukee in 2012, and pointed to the way that Florida Governor elect Rick Scott, also skeptical about rail, handled the situation. "He's willing to listen to different points of view before he just says no. As a result, Talgo is considering relocating jobs that would have gone to Wisconsinites to Florida instead."

So, in the middle of one of the worst times for unemployment in recent memory, these two upper Midwestern states are turning away jobs. The Governors claim that they don't want to saddle state taxpayers with operating costs, but is that concern worth sacrificing jobs and a better transit future now? Do they care that in the long run they may end up being left far behind?


Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor

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  • Richard[ December 17th, 2010 @ 12:53pm ]

    These governors should BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES! How stupid can they be? Rail travel is the future!

  • Jan van Eck[ December 17th, 2010 @ 2:01pm ]

    Unfortunately, the two Governors are probably correct in their assessments. The proposed train-sets will run on freight lines, and remain beholden to freight movements until national rail ends up reorganized - not likely with a GOP-dominated House. the equipment is not appropriate to the service level, with high operational costs - those costs are not going to receive a Federal subsidy, so the States will have to "eat" it. Unless separate roadbeds and high levels of frequency of service are provided, the ridership base will not support the operational costs, never mind the capital costs. It is not that rail is a losing proposition; the parameters as now set just do not do the job. Illinois is much more likely to be successful with conventional train-sets. There are parallel trackage links on competing freight railroads that can be utilized, and there is enough traffic density via Springfield to ensure a ridership base. I predict Talgo will go there. I predict those train runs will be able to support themselves, probably even turn a profit.

  • David Christensen[ December 20th, 2010 @ 1:48pm ]

    Yes they passed up MILLIONS of dollars but what was left for the district to pay. I am a bus operator for Triemt in Oregon covering 3 counties. At this time our finances are so bad the company can not even hire enough operators to cover the work we have let alone add more to the system and more operators. We are so far behind in just man power some operators are able to make over 100K per year with all the overtime. The Operators have been working with out a contract signed for over a year. There is Federal money available for construction but that does not mean you can afford to build and expand at this time. The federal money does not cover all of the cost and if you can not pay the rest the federal money really does not mean anything. It would be a good thing to lay more rail down but our company just is not stable enough money wise. I hope they hold off on expanding right now too.

  • Doug[ January 20th, 2011 @ 7:41am ]

    It must be nice to have the luxury of such a narrow of view of the facts regarding this issue. When one considers ALL the facts and ponders the TRUE economic (negative) impact on the State's economy as well as environmental impacts it is a "no brainer" that saying NO was and is the only reasonable position. The most unreasonable factor is not allowing Wisconsin to retain all or part of the monies to upgrade and repair roads and bridges. Sadly politics often over shadows wisdom.


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