With Governor-Elect Scott Walker vowing to stop the high-speed rail project in its tracks, Illinois is now angling for Wisconsin’s federal funds.
Walker has said he will follow through on his campaign promises to reject the project, for which the federal government has allotted $810 million in federal funding. The grant is specifically earmarked for high-speed rail, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Now Illinois is asking for the funds just days after New York Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo wrote to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood asking for Wisconsin’s rail funding.
“If Wisconsin is not interested in the thousands of jobs that can be created [through the federally funded projects], the money should stay invested in Midwest funding for high-speed rail work,” said Josh Kauffman, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
If Walker refuses the funds and the federal government allots them to Illinois, the money would help existing projects move forward while creating jobs, Kauffman said. Illinois re-elected Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, by a narrow margin in this month’s election.
In the past, federal funds have dramatically helped improve high-speed rail projects throughout Illinois, Kauffman added.
Kauffman said governors representing both parties from several states have worked together for the past 15 years to find ways to connect the Midwest.
The funding would allow Illinois to connect its jobs and employers to the global market place while connecting Chicago to Madison and the Twin Cities, Kauffman said.
Walker transition director John Hiller reiterated in a statement Wednesday that Walker remains committed to stopping the construction of the Madison-Milwaukee train line.
Although Walker has said he hopes to reallocate the funds for road construction, transportation officials have said the $810 million cannot be used for anything other than the train projects, said Jay Heck, executive director for Common Cause in Wisconsin.
Because Walker’s campaign promised to terminate the project, it is likely that he will allow the funds to go to another state before breaking this campaign promise, Heck added.
If Illinois receives the money, it could “add insult to injury” because Wisconsinites would still be burdened with the Illinois tolls while traveling to Chicago, but the toll payoffs would not be returned, Heck said. Walker has previously stated he would be open to a form of tolling on some Wisconsin roads.
Heck added the decision leaves Walker beginning his career destroying jobs rather than adding to the 250,000 jobs he promised to create during his first four years, something Hiller says Walker still plans to do.