Just Passing Through, I Guess
December 9, 2010 10:08 AM
On a cold December night with little advance notice and a shifting venue, 650 people found their way to what had been billed as a largely technical meeting on high speed rail. The joint meeting of the Wisconsin and Minnesota DOTs was planned months ago to fulfill a technical requirement for the selection of a route for high speed rail between Chicago and the Twin Cities. And had things gone as planned, it might have attracted a dozen people. But the election of Scott Walker to be Wisconsin governor and his opposition to the high speed line prompted the public to turn out in droves on Tuesday night to ask him to take another look at his position.
The reaction in Madison mirrored the response for the same meetings over the last few weeks in La Crosse and Eau Claire. The message couldn't be clearer: lots of Wisconsinites want high speed rail. They want the thousands of construction jobs in this stubborn recession. They want the convenience of rail as an alternative to driving, especially for an aging society. They want us to be put on the map literally as a place that is connected to the world and figuratively as a place that is connected to the modern economy. They don't understand how turning the money back to the feds just so they can use it to fund exactly the same kind of project in another state makes any sense at all for Wisconsin.
In response to this outpouring, Scott Walker's spokesperson said something both encouraging and strange. To quote the State Journal, "Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said in an e-mail response to questions from the State Journal on Tuesday that Walker would be open to spending the $810 million allocated for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route to upgrade current passenger routes that bypass the capital, but that would require federal approval. Werwie declined to elaborate."
So, Walker seems to be moving toward acceptance of the rail money for a rail project in Wisconsin as long as it doesn't stop in Madison. It's strange for a Wisconsin governor to not want to keep a stop in his state's capital and second largest city. It's even more odd when you consider that one of Walker's arguments against the train is that few people will ride it. Actually, the ridership projections for Madison are 500,000 in the first year alone. Skirting Madison, and I assume La Crosse and Eau Claire, (if it doesn't make sense to Walker to stop in a city with 225,000 people, why would it add up to stop in smaller places?) will mean no riders will be added to the line as it zooms through our state to St. Paul. How does that benefit Wisconsin?