Our Area's Transportation System
I have never been one to rely on things that are supposed to occur in the distant future. I remember when I moved to the Chippewa Valley in 1987, there was a lot of discussion about the merits of the North Crossing connecting the west and east sides of the City of Eau Claire.
I also recall broadcasting numerous stories about the plausibility of an Inner or Outer Highway 53 bypass. At the time, neither seemed like they would ever become a reality. But both transportation enhancements now look like they should have been no-brainers for approval.
As we look into the future for the next development of our area's transporation system, we face a battle with leaders in the LaCrosse region who want to extend the Amtrak railroad line through their area to the Twin Cities. Meanwhile, Chippewa Valley officials are trying to convince lawmakers that the preferred rail service should run along the Interstate 94 corridor.
I give local proponents of attracting passenger rail service a lot of credit. They are getting organized by working with state and federal politicians and are meeting monthly to discuss the challenges they face trying to include West Central Wisconsin in the expansion of the current passenger rail service.
But I can't help but be a bit pessimistic about this futuristic plan for passenger rail. Everyone knows that the Milwaukee to Madison line will be constructed within the next five years with federal stimulus money. But there are no assurances that there will be any money left to extend the train schedule beyond Tomah. I also know that state transportation experts have always preferred the LaCrosse rail route as opposed to Eau Claire.
I am all for the idea that I could hop on a train and take it to the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee and beyond. But I'm not convinced that a few hundred million of our tax dollars needs to be spent over the next decade to provide a new mode of transportation that nobody knows how many people will use.
I hope I'm wrong and that ,someday, I can tell kids of the next generation that passenger rail service through Eau Claire should have been a no-brainer from the outset.
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