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Do rail-related jobs add up?

By Joe Lanane

Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group released a study suggesting the proposed Madison to Milwaukee high-speed rail line would create nearly 13,000 state jobs by 2013.

At first glance, that number is encouraging, but that’s just a small piece of the pie compared to the estimated 72,000 temporary and permanent jobs that would come as a result of the Midwest regional rail initiative.

Wisconsin will have 18 percent of the newly created workforce within its borders thanks to the $822 million federal stimulus grant the state will receive. That money is expected to cover the entire initial costs of the Madison-to-Milwaukee project and improvements on the existing Hiawatha line — something other state rail efforts cannot claim. In fact, the Badger state received 30 percent of the $2.7 billion set aside by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

That 12 percent difference should be cause for concern for pro- and anti-rail advocates alike. Job creation is not the only positive outcome WISPIRG attributes in its study, but it is the one that perks the most ears in this heated election season.

There is no denying this project should move forward. Like it or not, other Midwestern states will follow through on this initiative, and Wisconsin will not be viewed favorably for creating a hole in this rail network.

But if the numbers WISPIRG released are indeed accurate, perhaps the federal government was too kind in giving Wisconsin one-third of available stimulus resources when we can only return one-fifth of the jobs.

Joe Lanane is a staff writer (and apparently part-time mathematician) at The Daily Reporter.

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