November 17, 2010 10:33 AM
Some positive developments have taken place in the last few days on the high speed rail issue.
The Sheboygan Press and the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter weighed in with strong editorials on the subject. The Sheboygan Press now makes at least four papers in the state that endorsed Governor-Elect Scott Walker that now have told him they want him to revisit his position on this topic. And it reinforces the case again that this is not just about Madison. You can read the editorials here: http://www.sheboyganpress.com/article/20101109/SHE06/11090360/Editorial-Let-s-look-at-big-picture-on-rail-line and here: http://www.htrnews.com/article/20101114/MAN06/11140465/1410/EditorialHigh-speed-rail-line-should-proceed.
And our region's private economic development entity, Thrive, has issued a good letter in support of the project. This is significant because it's the first time that Thrive has really stepped out in front on a controversial public policy issue. It's absolutely crucial for Thrive to be involved in something so fundamental to our region's growth as high speed rail, and they're weighing in on this is significant and very welcome. Their letter can be found here: http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/documents/HSRThrive.pdf.
In addition to Thrive, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter supporting rail, reflecting the strong support for the project in the business community. You can read that letter here http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/documents/HSRWalker.pdf.
And the governor-elect has started to shift his language on the subject away from the idea that he would like to see the money spent on roads to a discussion of how it might be spent on rail, either to upgrade the existing line from Chicago to Milwaukee or from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities on the existing Empire Builder. On the first line, the Chicago to Milwaukee Hiawatha, there already is funding set aside for some upgrades there and, as long as we could continue to move forward on the Milwaukee to Madison segment, I'd be supportive of doing even more work on that line. The Hiawatha is very popular, and it's an indication of how Wisconsinites have taken to rail. As for using the Empire Builder line for high speed rail, that won't work for a couple of reasons. First, none of the environmental or engineering work has been done on that line. It would take years to get that line to the same point that Milwaukee to Madison is today. And second, coming through Madison dramatically increases ridership as compared to bypassing Madison far to the north.
Still, we should give credit to the governor-elect for having an open mind on different ways to save this money for Wisconsin. He's moving in the right direction.