Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Walker’s train bid not as hypocritical as critics claim

When news got out this Tuesday that Governor Scott Walker
would like to use $150 million of rejected Department of Transportation money to
improve the existing Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha line, some people were quick to
call him a hypocrite; they pointed out how a couple months earlier the governor
turned down $810 million to build a Milwaukee-Madison high-speed line. He was
called a flip-flopper.

Walker requesting money to buy two train sets and eight
locomotives, as well as build a maintenance facility in Milwaukee, is a
different idea than that of the Milwaukee-Madison high-speed rail. For one,
this is a relatively small upgrade to an existing line, not an entirely remodeled
line. Walker rejected the $810 million because he believed the projected $7.5
million annual costs (or, as later reported by the Transportation Department,
$5.2 million)
were not worth the risk.

It was reported that federal money covers as much as 90
percent of Hiawatha operating costs because the train helps reduce traffic
congestion and air pollution as well as helps travelers avoid freeway
construction zones. If the state’s federal highway aid totals $734 million, as
it did in the last federal fiscal year, a 90-percent share of $5.2 million
would account for less than 1 percent of the total. Therefore, it was argued
that adding the Milwaukee-to-Madison leg would be a relatively insignificant
addition to the bill that’s already paid.


However, our nation’s economy does not grant it much
opportunity to do a lot of state funding. Federal money towards highways needs
to be decreased; this could be accomplished by improving the highways. We
should invest in smoother roads, which not only reduce maintenance costs, but
also reduce wear and tear on vehicles. There should not be as much as $734
million spent towards federal highway aid. Also, if some of the aid is going to
go towards trains, the decisions on train lines need to be wise ones.

As reported by America 2050, the Milwaukee-Chicago line has
the most potential in the Midwest
. It was reported that 30 percent of Chicago’s population and
nearly 40 percent of its jobs are within a 25-mile zone of transit
accessibility. Madison pales in
comparison. Moreover, it was reported that nearly 800,000 passengers used
the Hiawatha line last year; if the steady growth the line demonstrated in the
last decade continues, there will be as many as 50,000 more passengers next
year. The projected ridership between Madison and Milwaukee is valued at 476,400.
Simply put, a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee is not
currently the wisest step for the state. Buses like Badger Bus suffice for
transit between less congested cities.

So there is some logic to Walker’s reasoning. He did not see
the Milwaukee-Madison transit system as valuable enough to carry through. But,
even back in November, when he stated he was against $810 million of federal
money being used towards the Milwaukee-Madison connection, he was looking into
other means of improving transportation. There just was not an obvious better
solution to using the money at the time. He wanted to use the money for
highways, but since the money could not be legally reallocated, Walker was
forced to drop it. Now, the America 2050 statistics, alongside the support of
the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
and local businesses, are pointing towards the Milwaukee-Chicago line. And, now that Florida recently rejected $2.4 billion in high-speed rail
support, a funding opportunity for the project has opened up.

It would be exciting to see the travel time between
Milwaukee and Chicago reduced from 90 to 60 minutes. Continued flow of dollars
between the Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan areas benefit both states. And an
upgrade to the line could lower operating expenses, reduce capital costs and generate
more ticket revenue, which would be great for the state. Moreover, for all the
still gung-ho Milwaukee-Madison high-speed rail supporters, this could be the
first step in making that a possibility under Walker’s reign.

Victoria Yakovleva ([email protected])
is a senior in chemical engineering.

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