High-speed rail (HSR) in Wisconsin is a big deal for Minnesotans because it is an essential link in the corridor to Chicago. We have written about the political battle over the HSR project in Wisconsin before, and it has just become a much more complicated situation. Scott Walker, the Republican candidate, has won the gubernatorial election, and is now attempting to make true on his promises of stopping the new rail project. The only problem is that reality proves to have more moving parts than campaign slogans.
Scott Walker’s campaign promise was to take the money for rail and spend it on roads instead, or reject it entirely. Now that the dust has settled after the election, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has put the Madison-Milwaukee link on indefinite hold. The big question now is what happens to the $810 million that current WI Governor Doyle received for that very rail line. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has told both Scott Walker and John Kasich, the anti-rail Republican governor-elect of Ohio, that the money for HSR projects is only for HSR projects, and cannot be used for other transportation projects, according to an article in American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Journal.
This is nothing new, because they are appropriated funds which are, well … appropriated. The entire purpose of assigning a purpose to funds would be ruined if politicians could use them for whatever they saw most politically advantageous. What is new is that a Spanish manufacturing company, Talgo, Inc. has announced that they will leave the state if the Milwaukee-Madison HSR project is canceled. Their current U.S. factory is located in Milwaukee, where they are fulfilling a train order from Oregon. If there is no Wisconsin HSR project when they are finished, they will leave and take their jobs with them, according to The Daily Reporter, a Wisconsin publication focused on construction news. Additionally, eight different firms were affected when the Wisconsin DOT halted the HSR project, which was already underway with engineering and planning.
It is clear that Mr. Walker has a complicated situation to deal with that can’t be handled by sound bites any more. He is sticking to his arguments that the HSR would be too costly, and that WI would be on the hook for the operating expenses and construction costs the state can’t afford, despite the federal aid. His most recent suggestion is that if he can’t spend the HSR money on roads, then he will spend it on existing rail services. Wisconsin applied for these competitive HSR funds, and now Mr. Walker doesn’t want to see the funds leave the state, nor does he want to spend them according to their purpose. Other states, like Illinois, are already queuing up to take the money for their own HSR projects. Governor-elect Walker has an important decision to make, and we hope he sees the advantages that Wisconsin stands to gain from a high-speed rail linking its biggest cities to the most important economic corridor in the Midwest.