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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

High-speed rail should go through La Crosse

From an editorial in The Capital Times:

Wisconsin is closer than ever to gaining the high-speed rail service that is needed to put this state on the regional and national transportation map.

In fact, the likelihood that a Chicago-Twin Cities route will make stops across the state is now so real that communities are fighting to be on it.

It was long thought that the service would go from Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison to La Crosse and then across the Mississippi River and up toward Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The "phase one" connector between Madison and Milwaukee is still on target -- despite the efforts of the anti-rail naysayers to try to slow things down. All that is needed is for the project to get a piece of $8 billion in stimulus money that is being made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- a prospect that seems entirely possible now that Midwestern governors are uniting to push for the plan.

But there is suddenly a debate about whether the service will go through La Crosse or Eau Claire.

A final version of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Connections 2030 plan, which identifies the design, construction and operation of the Madison-Twin Cities corridor, now suggests that the choice of which Wisconsin city will get the service is open to question.

The WisDOT plan refers to the La Crosse and Eau Claire routes as "project alternatives … to be determined during environmental and engineering studies."

That introduces an uncertainty to the process, which is to some extent understandable.

The return of real rail service to Wisconsin is an exciting prospect, especially as gas prices spike. And cities have every right to compete for the service.

But our sense is that Bob Fisher, a member of the Wisconsin Association of Rail Passengers, is right when he says that La Crosse's claim is well settled. The city already has Amtrak service. It's rail infrastructure is in place and there's strong local support for the project.

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