High speed stall in Wisconsin

Image by Brian Jacobson

No matter where you stand on the Milwaukee to Madison high speed train, the last eight days have sped by like a runaway train on a track full of hairpin curves.

First, Jim Doyle’s administration signed contractsobligating the state to take all of the $810 million in federal funds connected to the project. Next, voterselected Scott Walker to the governorship, who campaigned for years against the train, and sent GOP majorities to both houses in Madison and to the House of Representatives in Washington.

Reading the tea leaves, the Doyle administration sends a message to the contractors involved to stop all work on the train, for now. (Late Monday, Nov. 8th, Doyle decided to keep the pause button on indefinitely).Talgo, the Spanish trainmaker recruited by Tom Barrett in his effort to bring jobs to Milwaukee, is hinting at leaving the state if the train isn’t built, and now, New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has offered to take the money off our hands to develop a high-speed “Erie Canal” in his state.

So what the heck is happening? Will we have a train or not?

To paraphrase a famous coroner, the train is not only merely dead – it is really, most sincerely dead! Doyle’s stunt last week with the contracts was a last ditch effort to call the voters’ bluff. The voters didn’t buy it and sent Walker to Madison.

The change in Washington is also a dagger in the heart of President Obama’s vision of nation rail transport. In this format, it’s dead. Florida Republican John Mica is slated to chair the House transportation committee, and I doubt he has changed his tune about a high speed train with a top speed lower than 80 mph. He told Gov. Doyle that very thing this past April, and in his new role Mica will have great influence over the future of the project.

The ascension of Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald to leadership of the state assembly and senate have also killed the train. Both have publicly said they will not obligate state taxpayers to the annual operating costs of this project when the state is facing a $2.7 billion deficit and other more pressing transportation needs.

The second half of Walker’s election promise is also looking good; to convert the train funding to road and bridge money to rebuild and expand our highways. With a state congressional delegation now firmly in the Republican majority, including the future chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, I think Obama will have to compromise with the states on how to use federal transportation funds.

So, no train in our future. The majority of citizens see it as a waste of money that neither the country nor Wisconsin definitely have. We have pressing problems – a $14 trillion federal debt, a $2.7 billion state budget deficit, loans with China up to our eyeballs and millions of people out of work.

Without this albatross hanging around Wisconsin’s neck, Walker, the assembly and senate, and Washington can get to work on those problems. And maybe they can figure out how to fund the buses we already have.



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