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Monday, November 15, 2010

Arguments against rail just don't measure up

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

We need jobs; this would provide some. We need economic development; this would link the state to those networks. Think of it as state money coming home.


Governor-elect Scott Walker wants to stop a fast rail line from Milwaukee to Madison essentially because he thinks it would be a waste of taxpayer money. But what's really in danger of being wasted here is opportunity: opportunity for jobs, for economic growth, for a modern balanced transportation system.

Walker ran on a campaign that emphasized the need for jobs, jobs and more jobs. He has promised to call a special session as soon as he's sworn into office aimed at creating a more business-friendly atmosphere in Wisconsin. He has promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. His approach is right on target.

What he and other critics of rail miss is that creating a network of fast trains to connect Midwestern cities can play an essential role in helping businesses connect and in creating jobs. Providing another option to traffic-jammed freeways and hassle-plagued airports could attract new companies and young workers who prefer working on a train to sitting in traffic or being body-scanned in an airport. Add in gas prices that are bound to go up and Wisconsin's occasionally traffic-killing weather, and traveling by rail becomes even more attractive.

Fast rail probably works best for medium-range traveling, say in the 100- to 400-mile range, which is exactly what's being discussed here. And while speeds won't reach the true high-speed standards of Europe and Japan, they are expected to be up to 110 mph by 2015 and will still provide a convenient service that avoids the hassles of driving and flying and allows passengers to rest or work while they're traveling. Using rail to connect business centers and research parks in Chicago to such centers in Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis could help those centers interact and feed off each other for growth.

If that network isn't built here, companies and young workers will go to places such as Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City that embrace transit, as Steve Hiniker of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin told us.

A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Conference of Mayors looked at the potential benefits of high-speed rail for four "hub" cities: Albany, Chicago, Orlando and Los Angeles. Chicago would be the center of a network that would connect the city to St. Louis, Detroit and Minneapolis (with stops in Milwaukee and Madison). The report projected "as much as $6.1 billion a year in new business sales, producing up to 42,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in new wages."

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