When I wrote a column a few months ago regarding the high-speed rail project proposed for Milwaukee to Madison, I questioned whether there would ever be enough money to extend the line from Madison to the Twin Cities through either Eau Claire or LaCrosse. Now that Governor-elect Scott Walker has put the kabosh to the concept, I have wavered in my opinion about whether the $810 million in federal stimulus dollars should be used for the rail enhancement.
I am not one who believes that, just because the federal government anoints a state with federal money, it is wise to utilize the funds for what was intended. I also am not enamored with the idea that federal money could instead be used to upgrade an existing rail system (The Hiawatha) between Milwaukee and Chicago, since that would do nothing for the economy in West Central Wisconsin.
Whether the high-speed rail line goes through LaCrosse or Eau Claire on its way to Minneapolis is immaterial to me. Sure, I would like to drive to a local train depot and take the train to Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee or the Twin Cities for a lot less money than if I were to drive. But I'm still not sure, given the economic times, that I will have the opportunity within the next 15 years to take advantage of the service.
Having said that, there are some definitive statistics that support paying for a high-speed rail system between Milwaukee and Madison. About 8,000 people would be employed, a larger percentage of retail and office space in and around the rail stations would be filled and municipalities around the rail towns would experience economic growth.
But this is probably not the time to ask taxpayers to pay to start a project that may never reach its end goal. However, it should be pointed out that taxpayers already spend a lot of their hard-earned dollars on airport runways, highways and bridges. So it's not that much of a reach to ask for more tax revenue to start a project that probably should have begun years ago.
There is no question that the United States government is way behind the times compared to European nations who have elected to be forward-thinking by developing high-speed rail. The real question is whether we spend money now without knowing the end result just because we are afforded the opportunity to create jobs. At some point, the spending has to end.
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