Compiled by Courier Staff
Governor-elect Scott Walker immediately began his road to Madison with a theme of ‘Wisconsin Is Open For Business’, yet his first order of business is his continued opposition to the high speed rail project for Wisconsin. This project is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs. One of the cornerstones to Walker’s campaign was stopping the project, and he seems to be determined to continue that campaign. Walker says that he will ask Congress to allow the $810 million in funding for the project to be re-directed to improving roads and bridges.
Supporters of the project such as Governor Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett have consistently corrected Walker’s misdirected plan, by stating that the monies will go to another state if Wisconsin rejects the project, monies will not be re-directed to another project in Wisconsin that the governor-elect chooses.
Since being elected U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Hood reportedly called Walker, congratulated him on his win, and later wrote him a letter regarding the “difference of opinion about the value of a Midwest high-speed rail network.”
“I respect the power of governors to make decisions for their states,” LaHood wrote. “There seems to be some confusion, however, about how these high-speed rail dollars can be spent. For this reason, I would like to set the record straight: None of the money provided to Wisconsin may be used for road or highway projects, or anything other than high-speed rail. Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin’s project so that we do not waste taxpayers’ money.”
Governor Jim Doyle put the project on pause after Walker’s victory and meeting with him, where he expressed his continued opposition to the project. He released a statement on Monday, explaining in more detail his position.
“The high speed rail project is one that is very important to this state and one that I have worked on for many years. Over the past several years we have made Wisconsin a regional rail leader. We have spent years working closely with our neighboring states, our federal partners and Amtrak. We collaborated to plan the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a nine-state intercity passenger rail system with a hub in Chicago, to connect Wisconsin’s centers of commerce and businesses to others in the Midwest.
“When President Obama announced his initial investment in modern high speed rail for this country, Wisconsin was the biggest winner. States across the country, with rail projects totaling $55 billion, were competing for the $8 billion that was available. The $823 million Wisconsin received is more than 10 percent of all the funds awarded nationally for high speed rail projects. And Wisconsin was the only state to receive all of the funds it applied for.
“We have gotten this project to the point where construction work is ready to begin immediately. Right now, people could be at work constructing land bridges and more. I could push forward full steam ahead on this project, play brinksmanship. In fact, we could spend or obligate hundreds of millions of dollars.
“While I could force the issue, I believe that this project will only be successful in the long run if the State of Wisconsin and the U.S. Department of Transportation are strong partners. For that reason, I have put the project on pause, so that the U.S. DOT and the Governor-elect can confer about the future of the high speed rail project. If Governor- elect Walker opposes the project, U.S. DOT has made it clear that the money will go to one of the many other states that intend to move forward with high speed passenger rail.
“To me, it doesn’t make sense to not move ahead, but we have had an election. There has been a lot of politics played with this issue, but I have to deal in the real world and think about how this affects real jobs and the real lives of people in Wisconsin.
“There are real consequences for not going forward. Over 400 Wisconsin workers were scheduled to work on the project over the next several months and now face the real possibility of being laid off. Over $14 million in expenses incurred over the last six months will need to be paid for by Wisconsin taxpayers. Necessary upgrades to the existing Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago totaling $82 million will no longer be eligible for federal assistance, shifting costs from the federal government to the state. These include $18 million in platform renovations at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station necessary to bring the platform into compliance with federal safety regulations; $12 million for platform renovations at the Milwaukee Airport Station and other important improvements to the existing Hiawatha line; and $52 million for a facility to maintain new Hiawatha train sets.
“It is my understanding that in the coming days, the U.S. Department of Transportation will reach out to Governor-elect Walker about the project so that he fully understands these consequences. There has been talk that this money could be used for roads. That is pure fiction. There are already states lined up with rail projects waiting for us to turn back this money. If the governor- elect decides that Wisconsin should not build new rail infrastructure, the U.S. DOT has made it very clear this money will go to another state.”
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) wrote a letter addressed to both Governor Doyle and Governor-elect Walker expressing that continuing the high-speed rail project is critical to Wisconsin. In her letter she says that this project is critical because it offers more options to connect people to their jobs and that it is an economic win-win for our state.
“This is especially true for low-income people, many of whom have no viable transportation option and can’t get to where the jobs are. And as part of the vision of a nationwide high speed rail network, the economic benefits to our state will be plentiful.
“In Milwaukee, Talgo will create jobs building cars for high speed rail. They will build cars for the rails in Oregon, and they should be able to build rail cars to be used in Wisconsin as well. Stopping work on the project puts these jobs in great jeopardy. This is about our future, not about our past. We all share the same goal of creating good jobs for Wisconsinites. The election is over, and this shouldn’t be about politics. It should be about people and family-supporting jobs. Undoubtedly, building a high speed rail line creates jobs. And more jobs will come once it is operational.
“Furthermore, the truth remains, if the funding isn’t used in Wisconsin for high-speed rail, the funding will not be used in Wisconsin at all. Sending this funding back is misguided and does nothing to help Wisconsin taxpayers. If anything, it sends their money away to build the high-speed rail somewhere else. As it stands today, Wisconsin gets less back from the Federal government than Wisconsinites pay in Federal taxes. Sending $810 million back to Washington only makes this worse.”
Milwaukee has also invested millions of dollars in preparation for this project through the preparation of the Tower project where Talgo, is located, contractors have been awarded portions of the project and according to Gov. Doyle more than $97 million has been spent in preparation for the project. If the project is canceled, those monies would more than likely have to be paid back by Wisconsin taxpayers.
Mayor Tom Barrett weighed in on the prospect of the cancellation of the project, saying; “I believe that the opposition to this project is completely misguided. And in the end thousands of jobs will be gained for the state that has the project and completes it. If Wisconsin doesn’t follow through then those jobs will be created in Illinois, New York or any other state that would love to move forward with the project.”
Illinois has also gone on record in stating that not only would they welcome the opportunity to complete the project, they are also extending an opportunity for Talgo to move to Illinois.
As this article went to print, Governor-elect Walker had written a letter to Secretary LaHood requesting for the high speed rail funds to again be used for roads and bridges.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore shared her conversation with U.S. Secretary LaHood :
“I told Secretary LaHood that I will keep fighting to create jobs in Wisconsin – not in New York, Florida or Illinois. I will keep working to make sure that Wisconsin doesn’t lose these jobs. We won’t meet the goal of adding jobs when the first move is subtraction.
“Secretary LaHood told me that if Wisconsin stops the train, DOT has no choice but to take the funding back.
“I also learned that Secretary LaHood is eager to sit down with Governor-Elect Walker to make sure he knows exactly what’s at risk and that he has the most accurate numbers, especially when it comes to the operating cost. I hope Governor-Elect Walker takes him up on that offer.”