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View from around the state: Western Wisconsin railroaded again

Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to reject $810 million in federal money for high-speed rail is turning in to the gift that keeps on giving for everyone but the residents of our part of the state.

Worse, it’s costing all taxpayers in Wisconsin more than it needs to — millions and millions of dollars more, according to one analysis.

And western Wisconsin won’t get so much as a train whistle out of the deal.

Recently, a legislative committee in Madison agreed to spend $31.6 million on the Hiawatha rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee. The Hiawatha line makes the trip seven times daily and carried nearly 800,000 passengers last year.

Oh, did we mention that work on the Hiawatha line would have been funded as part of the $810 million grant from the federal government because it was an extension of the now-deceased high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison?

So, let’s review: Wisconsin gives back $810 million. It won’t receive high-speed rail. And, as a bonus, we agree to spend $31.6 million out of our pockets — much of it borrowed — for work that the feds would have funded.

But wait, there’s more:

There’s also the ongoing operating costs as well as the need to pay for maintenance bases and train sheds and locomotives and signals, according to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Added up, the analysis shows that the federal grant could have paid for up to $99 million that Wisconsin taxpayers will now have to fund.

All of that is incredible when you consider that the Walker administration objected to high-speed rail through Wisconsin because of the ongoing costs.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, called it “Walker math,” and it certainly doesn’t add up in our favor.

Of course, Walker’s aides and his legislators disagree with the math and say the high-speed rail proposal would have had much higher ongoing costs for the state.

Cullen Werwie, the governor’s spokesman, called the move “action to pay another one of Gov. Doyle’s bills.”

Add up the math however you wish: The folks who pay taxes in western Wisconsin get to pay even more tax money to receive zero added rail service to our part of the state.

We’ve consistently criticized the governor for rejecting the funding because we felt it a short-sighted decision when there were longer-term economic benefits at stake — particularly for our part of the state, which would be next in line for a rail upgrade. Our local business community was in solid support of the proposal. The funds could not be used for anything else. It was a rare moment for Wisconsin to move up from being near the caboose in the federal funding line.

Yes, we understand that southeast Wisconsin has much higher population.

We don’t have a Zoo Interchange — the busiest in Wisconsin, requiring hundreds of millions in redesign and reconstruction.

Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb visited the Tribune’s editorial board a couple of weeks ago, and he assured us that western Wisconsin is receiving a healthy share of state funding for road projects.

But, Walker’s decision to return $810 million to the federal government while devoting millions of state funds for some of the same rail work might as well be a train to nowhere for the people of western Wisconsin.

Once more, Gov. Walker has told western Wisconsin to take a long walk.

La Crosse Tribune

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  1. Inveterate rail opponents – such as Scott Walker is – are usually tied somehow/somewhere into the highway industry – such as Scott Walker is.

    Scott Walker killed Wisconsin’s only chance to connect to the federal plan to restore intercity passenger rail across the United States. The statewide outrage over that shortsightedness is still growing and fermenting.
    Scott Walker said at the time that he wanted that $810 million spent on highways. (Big surprise, huh?) Except even he had to have known that the grant couldn’t be spent on highways, and would just be reallocated to another state whose more-visionary governor was waiting to get Wisconsin’s money to build rail there. (Look up the term \donor state\.)

    One of Scott Walker’s claims was that Wisconsin couldn’t afford the annual operational costs of the Madison branch, about $6 million a year. Even if Wisconsin was on the hook for that whole tab (actually, Amtrak pays up to ninety percent of deficit funding, so Scott Walker was being deceptive there as well), that would total a fifth of a cent of gasoline tax. Do the math: if we buy 20 gallons of gasoline at $4.00 per gallon, the bill comes to $100. Just one dime out of that $100 would have paid for the Madison line *without* the Amtrak subsidy. (And it wasn’t to stay a Madison line at all, but the first leg of the complete line across Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, yet another Scott Walker convenient omission.)

    And Scott Walker also conveniently omitted all the Wisconsin-based jobs created to build the route, all the job-creating development that would have occurred around the stations, and all the tailpipes it would have removed from the interstate.

    One-way Milwaukee-Madison fares were set at between $20 and $30 for the 78-mile run. The federal mileage-reimbursement rates put the savings at $9 to $19 each trip.

    Scott Walker and his true believers kept parroting the ridiculous absolutism that \no one will ride it\. Okay, let’s stretch that \argument\ to further inanity: if most Wisconsinites won’t use Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange, don’t rebuild it … net saving, $2 billion. And I-39 is a highway that most Wisconsinites will never use, so why build that, if we can save $1 billion?

    This is partisan bickering at its worst, and Scott Walker is its guru. He won his point by killing the HSR train, and thereby he and his coterie of true-believers (shrinking now, certainly, but still noisy) are responsible costing the state taxpayers still-uncounted millions for all the rail upgrades that the $810 federal grant would have covered.

  2. fonduedcheesehead

    Brad–why isn’t any of this Obama and Lahood’s fault ?? Stimulus ? Only rail produces jobs ? Compromise ? Nope railroaded by the feds.

  3. Inside sources say that last year Ray LaHood personally sat down with Scott Walker to try to clarify the rail project and to answer his objections to the Madison line in a sincere effort to explain to Scott Walker how this was a viable project that was good for the state and part of a longstanding Midwestern rail network plan that was prompted and encouraged by, among others, Wisconsin Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, who Scott Walker has repeatedly claimed to be a person he greatly admires. So it wasn’t for not trying. (And kindly don’t put words in my mouth, fondue, because I never said “only rail produces jobs”.)

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