If anyone has spent time in Europe, it is woefully apparent that the U.S. is drastically lacking in comparison in train infrastructure. The one place in the country where there is nominal train service at best is in the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak, the nation’s only high-speed rail network is most densely operated. But even that is iffy at best.
But things don’t always have to be this way. There was once a time, nearly a decade ago, when Wisconsin — along with numerous other states — had the opportunity to gain high-speed rails of their own which would have connected the Midwest in ways that only the East Coast has.
But then Gov. Scott Walker happened.
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Of all the blunders Walker made while governor, few seem as absolutely stupid as his decision to say no to more than $800 million of federal aid that would have been used to build high-speed rails throughout Wisconsin.
The plan, announced by then-President Barack Obama, was part of his massive stimulus package to pull the U.S. economy out of the recession. Part of this package would have included $8 billion to states across the country to fund rail infrastructure and bring the country out of the drain.
Specifically, Wisconsin would be the middleman, with connections uniting Minneapolis and Chicago together with access in between to Madison and Milwaukee.
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While former Gov. Jim Doyle was in office, he managed to secure the $810 million promise from the Obama administration, but it was ultimately turned down once Walker came to office.
Walker campaigned and claimed that the project would have cost the state too much money, citing the $7 million cost to operate and fund the railways each year. While that may seem like a large number, it pales in comparison to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation budget of $3 billion allocated for roads alone. Nonetheless, once Walker came into office he kept good on his lamentation and vetoed the project.
Walker’s claims of fiscal responsibility are especially depressing and aggravating in light of the disaster that has become of the Foxconn deal, and the loss of some $4 billion of state money.
This loss comes at a time when Wisconsin millennials would prefer to live in places where one does not need a car to get around, according to a new survey by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. Wisconsin as a whole is struggling to attract young professionals to live and work within the state. The presence of a railway system in Wisconsin has the potential to draw younger demographics to Wisconsin. Both are desperately needed.
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In his 2011 State of the Union Address, Obama announced that within 25 years, over 80 percent of Americans should have access to high-speed rail transportation. And while his initial plan has largely faltered and disappeared, Obama’s old aspirations should — and can — still come true.
More specifically, it is vital that Evers – and all Wisconsin politicians — prioritize securing and pursuing train infrastructure. It is environmentally strong, creates jobs, politically popular and the right thing to do.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, D-New York City, popular Green New Deal contains provisions emphasizing that in the future, train travel will be so expansive that air travel itself will dwindle out. While grandiose and bold, the idea is exactly what we need. For one, train travel is environmentally smart.
It is no secret human-caused climate change has harmed the world in irreversible ways, and we must attempt to prevent the worst apocalyptic disasters from happening. One of those ways is to drastically change how we travel. According to a report by the Journal of Advanced Transportation, train travel leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than flying. If we want to save the planet, or at least save ourselves for as long as possible, a transition into new ways of transportation is vital.
When the Obama plan was announced, it was found that the project would — and could — have created thousands of jobs for Wisconsinites. While these numbers were estimates, it is doubtless that a project of this size could kick start the Wisconsin economy that’s been sluggish in recent years for job creation.
Wisconsin was offered the gift of the century with Obama’s hundreds of millions, and obviously, another gift of the same liking would be necessary to create new railways anytime soon — but pursuing the endeavor at all costs is the right thing to do.
Walker’s decision was ultimately stupid and short-sighted, but it’s not a curse that needs to last forever.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and history.