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Wisconsin not alone in threats to halt high-speed rail projects

By Jan Basina

State Highway Project-High Speed Passenger Rail, County Trunk Highway G-State Trunk Highway 89, Wisconsin DOT-WSOR (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds), Jefferson County

Wisconsin’s not the only state in a political quandary over high-speed rail.

There’s a threat of high-speed rail projects also being derailed in Ohio, Florida and California.

Republican gubernatorial candidates in these states have said they will quash or delay the projects, even if it means losing out of billions of federal money and thousands of construction jobs (in Wisconsin alone, the estimate is 5,500 construction jobs will be created over the next three years for high-speed rail projects).

Opponents of high-speed rail often cite the high price tags and the predictions that train passengers will not meet expectations to justify the cost of operations.

So let’s look at New Jersey. A state where people are heavily dependent on commuter travel between New Jersey and New York City. And where Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently withdrew from the $9 billion project to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River.The project, the largest public works project in the nation, is said to generate 6,000 construction jobs.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie (AP photo)

Republican Gov. Chris Christie (AP photo)

Christie, who is not up for re-election until 2013, tried to derail a multibillion-dollar deal with the federal government, the Port Authority of New York, saying his state could not afford the billions of dollars in cost over-runs he expected the project to generate.

Under the original agreement, the Port Authority and New Jersey would each contribute $3 billion, with an additional $2.7 billion coming from a combination of federal money, as well as a portion from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Transit advocates have said this link between New Jersey and New York is crucial to relieving congestion in the current tunnel. And according to a news report on Monday, Christie has given his team of advisers until Oct. 22 to come up with financing options that could keep the $9 billion on track.

And as for the future of high-speed rail projects, proponents say now the time is now to invest because of inexpensive construction costs and borrowing that has never been lower. They also argue it will reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and that a balanced transportation system will protect the environment and ensure future generations the ability to move about freely.

“Don’t say I never warned you
When your train gets lost
It Takes a Lot to Laugh,
It Takes a Train to Cry.”

— Bob Dylan

Jan Basina is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter and, apparently, a Bob Dylan fan.

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