Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wisc-Minn hearings on possible rail routes between Milw and Twin Cities

Dates for meetings at the end of this post. Also note the change of venue for the Madison hearing.

Photo courtesy of Environmental Law and Policy Center
No, rail is not totally dead in Wisconsin. Even though Gov-elect Walker is determined to throw away $810 million of federal investment and thousands of jobs to stop the extension of the Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin and Minnesota DOT officials are moving forward with a series of meetings to study routes through Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Coming up this week and next these meetings that give us a great chance to show support for rail in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the info about the meetings is hard to come by and confusing for anyone not already deep in the rail debate. There isn't even any information on the WisDOT web site, and they are running the meetings!

This is my effort to put all the info in one place.

Apart from the $810 million in ARRA money granted to Wisconsin to extend the popular and successful Hiawatha line west from Milwaukee to Madison, there was another project funded - a study of the best route between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. This was a joint study between the Wisconsin DOT and the Minnesota DOT, but Minnesota is taking the lead. Each state put in $300,000, and the federal government kicked in $600,000, so the study has $1.2 million total.

If the Hiawatha extension moves forward, that is, if Walker allows the Milwaukee-Madison piece to be built, it would seem logical for the MN-Milw route to go through Madison. But there are actually 14 routes being studied, and three of them do not pass through Madison. However, according to today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Wisconsin transportation officials don't believe any alignment that excludes Madison would be economically feasible, but the study has to consider all options, said Cari Anne Renlund, executive assistant to Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.
That is why we need to attend these meetings and say that we want rail in Madison. Also, one of the routes being studied is the current Empire Builder route that goes through Columbus, not exactly convenient to Madison, and certainly not likely to bring business or tourists to downtown for Badger games, Taste of Madison, Farmers Market, Art Far on the Square, etc. It's also not going to help business people that want to access the Capitol or campus area by bus, foot or bike. They are looking for a quick, easy way to avoid driving, and a Columbus stop really isn't much help.

However, the Walker has said he might consider using the federal stimulus funds for the Empire Builder. I guess he's willing to hang on to that money, as long as it is for a project that is guaranteed to fail and won't benefit those meddlesome liberals in Madison.

So let's get out to the meetings and show our support for rail in Wisconsin. This is about more than the much-debated Milwaukee-Madison piece. It's about economic development in western Wisconsin and connections to the entire region. Eau Claire and LaCrosse are both eager to have a connection to Madison and the Twin Cities. They know that this will bring investment in their communities and crucial connections to business and people across the Midwest. Minnesota wants a connection to Chicago, and they will push for it, even if they have to go through Iowa instead of Wisconsin. Illinois officials are already looking at that possibility.

Do we really want Wisconsin to be bypassed? Are we going to be the backwater of the upper Midwest, doomed to be off the map as modern transportation moves through other states, loaded with business deals, tourists, and investments? Are we willing to be left off the new interstate system?

Attend one of these meetings, and RSVP via the WISPIRG web site so you can get more information on how we can move rail forward in Wisconsin:
  • Tuesday, Nov. 30,  5-7pm: Best Western Riverfront Hotel, LaCrosse
  • Wednesday, Dec. 1,  5-7pm: Best Western Trail Lodge, Eau Claire
  • Thursday, Dec. 2,  5-7pm: University of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac
  • Tuesday, Dec. 7,  5-7pm: WisDOT Southwest Region Office, 2101 Wright Street, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4402 East Washington Ave, Madison
If you can't make the meetings, but want to submit comments, you can do so until December 29 by sending them to the MN DOT:

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