During his gubernatorial campaign, Governor Scott Walker consistently labeled the $800 million Wisconsin received in federal high speed rail funds as a waste of tax payer dollars, an Obama Administration boondoggle, and completely unnecessary. Shortly after winning his election, he got his wish; US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood happily took back the money allotted to Wisconsin and redistributed it to other states who actually desired to enter the 21st century, provide transportation alternatives and create jobs. Governor Walker then touted the loss of the money as a huge win for his administration, and the taxpayer.
Fast forward a couple of months when our inept governor realized that the Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha line actually needs improvements, new train sets and 8 locomotives that would have been provided for with the original $810 million rail grant. So what does he do? He applies for $150 million in federal funds to, well, buy new train sets, replace locomotives, and upgrade the tracks. You can’t make this stuff up.
In a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Secretary Ray LaHood said:
“President Obama and Vice President Biden’s vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world,” said Secretary LaHood. “The investments we’re making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities.”
In a conference call, LaHood avoided answering a question about whether Monday’s decision was related to Walker’s rejection of the original $810 million grant, which negated two decades of planning by previous administrations. But Secretary LaHood repeatedly used the word “reliable” in describing the leadership of states selected for rail funding.
State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, quickly showered the Walker Administration with well-deserved praise:
“This announcement shows all our neighbors get federal train help but Wisconsin,” he says. “Gov Walker’s war on transportation choices pays off for our neighbors while our outdated train lines don’t get the upgrades they need.”
It appears that Rep. Hulsey is talking about Talgo, a Spanish high-speed train manufacturer that announced it would likely close and move its manufacturing facility, and the jobs that go with it, to Illinois shortly after completing the trains already ordered.
Wisconsin taxpayers will now foot the bill to upgrade the Hiwatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. This is the busiest inter-city passenger rail corridor in the midwest and well-used by both business and leisure travelers. In fact, Ridership on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha rail line has doubled in the past eight years, hitting a record 792,848 in 2010. The $150 million in upgrades the state will now need to self-finance would have paid for maintenance costs on the proposed high-speed rail line for nearly 20 years. Even the cost associated with the completely unjustified increased security measures at the Wisconsin State Capitol has now reached nearly $7 million in a matter of a few months. Yet Governor Walker derailed the train because it “might” have cost that much in subsidies annually. More accurately, the federal government would have covered some, if not all, of the maintenance costs in contrast with Walker simply flushing money away to finance his personal palace guard. Sadly, while the rest of the midwest builds out high speed rail infrastructure with an eye toward the future, Wisconsin stays firmly planted in the 1950’s. Thanks Scott.
As always, comments are welcome!