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Lawmaker calls for end to high-speed rail planning

Amtrak’s X2000 train departs Philadelphia’s 30th Street station for its run between Washington, D.C., and New York on Feb. 1, 1993. The train is the fastest high-speed rail currently in the U.S. with a maximum speed of 156 mph. (AP Photo/Brad Bower)

Amtrak’s X2000 train departs Philadelphia’s 30th Street station for its inaugural run between Washington, D.C., and New York on Feb. 1, 1993. The train is currently the fastest in the U.S. with a maximum speed of 156 mph. (AP Photo/Brad Bower)

By Paul Snyder

A state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Jim Doyle to stop the state’s planning for the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line.

State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, said Friday that GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann committed to stopping work on the project if they are elected in November, and Wisconsin should pull the plug on the project now.

State Rep. Brett Davis on Friday called for a stop to high-speed rail planning in Wisconsin.

State Rep. Brett Davis on Friday called for a stop to high-speed rail planning in Wisconsin.

“It’s a misplaced priority,” Davis said of high-speed rail. “There are other ways to accomplish transit. Let’s talk about details and things like buses that can get people to places as quickly and inexpensively as possible.”

The federal government earlier this year awarded $823 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money for improvements to make high-speed rail available between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, and to determine a route from Wisconsin to the Twin Cities.

Davis, who is running for lieutenant governor and made his request in a letter to Doyle, said if elected he will immediately request sending back the money.

“We should absolutely say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,'” he said. “It’s taxpayer money that should be used to pay down the federal debt or used for other transportation needs in Wisconsin.”

Doyle’s office did not immediately return calls for comment.

However, at a high-speed rail announcement this month in Madison, Doyle said he did not understand the political motivation behind stopping work on the project. He said if Wisconsin rejects the money, another state will use it for a high-speed rail project.

It’s a good reason to forge ahead with work on the line, said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and a supporter of high-speed rail.

“If we say no to everything, Wisconsin will really be heading for the dark ages,” he said. “It’s that kind of ignorance that could put Wisconsin as an economic backwater.”

Davis said the state’s transportation budget is already operating with a $30 million deficit and building and operating a high-speed rail line will sink Wisconsin further into debt.

GO TO THE DAILY REPORTER’S HIGH-SPEED RAIL PROJECT PROFILE PAGE

At a meeting Thursday of the Wisconsin Innovation Network, Paul Trombino, project manager with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the department estimates high-speed rail will cost about $7 million a year to maintain.

The train will come at an added cost to taxpayers, Hiniker said, but it’s not worth rejecting the project.

“We always have to look to the future,” he said. “Yeah, we have a deficit. Do we stop schools because we have a deficit? Do we shut down police forces? Libraries? Attracting jobs costs money, so do we shut down the Department of Commerce? No. We invest in things that will make Wisconsin better in the future.”

The state’s transportation budget needs to be protected and bolstered before it takes on additional burdens, Davis said. He said he supports an idea backed by Walker and Neumann to divert sales tax collected on transportation-related items to the transportation budget.

But even if the transportation budget is made whole, Davis said he wants the state to fix its damaged highways and bridges before investing in a rail system he said many people oppose.

But pulling the plug on high-speed rail now, Hiniker said, would hurt Wisconsin for years.

“Someday we’ll be out of the deficit,” he said. “And when that day comes, some other place will be getting the benefits of having high-speed rail in their state.”

8 comments

  1. Just say NO To High Speed rail anywhere in Wisconsin!!!!!!!!!!! It is a waste of money. No one takes trains anymore, except for the few that have to. Who needs a train to Kenosha or Madison?????????? It is inefficient, yesterday’s technology and too expensive. Costs for these projects always cost more than they lie to us about.
    Democrats support this because they are typically not forward thinking individuals.
    Democrats support rail because it provides them more support from the unions that will be provided jobs. We should not make un-wise decisions based on the fact that Federal money will go help union jobs.
    Again, a Democrat politician’s best customer is an uninformed voter!!!!

  2. Dan Johnson-Weinberger

    I hope more and more people in Wisconsin see the value in connecting Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis with high speed rail. Better rail connections means more economic development, which means more job growth. The Midwest will rise and fall together, and it’s really hard to do business in our region (and particularly in Wisconsin) because our cities and towns are just too far apart.

    Especially with the cost of oil increasing, we need to use less oil in our regional economy. Energy-efficient high speed rail will do that.

    Part of Wisconsin’s economic future is increased tourism. By directly connecting Madison to Milwaukee and the rest of the Amtrak network, Wisconsin businesses will get more tourists. Without it, more of those tourists will decide it’s too far to drive and will go somewhere else.

    Finally, connecting Chicago to Madison with good high speed rail — which should be improved over time so that it eventually becomes a 90 minute trip — will allow far more businesses to grow and develop based off of all the intellectual capital generated at the University of Wisconsin. We need more smart people to be connected with business people to create and lead the companies of the future. Staying isolated from each other with driving trips that are too long to be convenient is the wrong move.

  3. Brett Davis said “It’s taxpayer money that should be used to pay down the federal debt or used for other transportation needs in Wisconsin.”

    Brett Davis’ comment is misleading. This is a 100% fully-funded federal project using taxpayer money from every American state … states where Wisconsinites taxpayers have for decades helped pay for rail lines elsewhere. Now these same rail-rich states are paying for Wisconsin’s Milwaukee-Madison leg of the Midwestern Rail Initiative that will eventually run to the Twin Cities. Brett Davis left that important detail out of his obstructionist speech.

    What Brett Davis also conveniently omitted saying was that it would also be taxpayer money, approximately $80 million of it, that would be used to repay Washington for what the feds have already spent on this project for all its preliminary research and engineering.

    Eighty million dollars — and this time, all of it from us Wisconsin taxpayers. That’s what Brett Davis would have to pay the feds right off the bat for torpedoing this massive public-works project should he manage to fool enough of the voters this November.

    But $80 million is not even the worst of it. Such a wasteful, unprecedented action would label Wisconsin throughout the national business world as having the most backward and parochial collection of backwater politicians since the days of Huey Long.

  4. Critics like to harp on the $7 million that this line may cost taxpayers. But comparing that price to maintaining roads that have to be rebuilt every 15 to 25 years is really the comparison that is to the point.

    We are looking at $2 billion for the I-94 to Illinois, another nearly $2 billion for the zoo interchange; and we just spent .9 billion on the Marquette.

    Roads require much more in terms of maintenance and repair than do rail lines. Those costs are not low, not cheap, but they are costs that are taken for granted, and never looked at by the people who parade around as the budget cutters, and the tax cutters.

  5. For a taxpayer and voter to be confused about the consequences of refusing to build th ehigh speed rail project is one thing. But for a candidate for state office to mislead the public is another thing entirely.
    Davis has to know this is a phony issue. It as if his predecessors had opposed the interstate highway system. This is not an “if we build it they will come project” This is a firm investment in the economic future of Wisconsin

  6. We need high speed rail, “real high seed”, but on the coast of the USA not the interior. I just got back from China. We better get ready, in some ways they are shooting way past the USA.

  7. Brett Davis is telling it like it is. The cost of this boondoggle will be too great for Wisconsinites to bear. And as for high-speed, somehow 75 mph doesn’t seem all that fast to me.

    Just one round trip ticket from Milwaukee to Madison is estimated to cost $60 to the rider and over $200 in subsidies to the taxpayer. I can drive it for much less and have my car to get me around once I am there. I don’t feel my tax dollars should be paying the subsidies to allow the upper class citizens and lobbyists (the ones that would be able to afford this) to ride on the rail.

    Mr. Johnson-Weinberger’s statement of needing less dependency on oil is most certainly true and a 70 ton diesel locomotive isn’t going to make that happen; it will make it worse.

    One of the worst things about all of this is the closed-door decisions that have been made because it is widely known that the public is not a majority backer of the plan.

  8. Beth Scott said: “One of the worst things about all of this is the closed-door decisions that have been made because it is widely known that the public is not a majority backer of the plan.” That is total fiction. Here are the public poll numbers: http://poll.fm/1r88o Another invention is Scott’s comment that trains make pollution worse. Every HSR meeting was open to the public by law, and the public could comment, and did, and the comments were in favor of HSR. People want this, and if this Brett Davis should somehow manage to get into a position of power where the HSR line would be canceled, he and his cohorts will have instantly cost the taxpayers of Wisconsin $80 million, the sum the federal government will have already invested. Whenever you think Brett Davis, or “Concrete” Scott Walker or Mark Neumann, always immediately add the suffix “$80 million”.

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