Newly elected governor Scott Walker hasn't even been sworn into office yet and he's already making big changes for Wisconsin—and not necessarily for the better.
Just days after the 2010 midterm-election results declared a nearly sweeping Republican victory in the state, Gov. Jim Doyle put a halt to a high-speed rail project that Walker avidly campaigned against. The Wisconsin high-speed intercity passenger rail plan was formed in 2009 as a way to develop the Milwaukee to Madison segment of what is known as the Midwest Regional Rail Corridor, according to the Department of Transportation.
The Wisconsin DOT applied for a stimulus package provided by the Federal Railroad Administration Recovery Act to make this project a reality. As a result, Wisconsin received the hefty sum of $810 million for the project, and, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the state purchased two 14-car trains manufactured by Talgo Inc.—a train building company based in Spain where fast trains known as ""bullet"" trains are already in place.
Not only are we heavily invested in the project, but this plan will also serve to repair the existing Hiawatha line that runs from Milwaukee to Chicago and would increase train speeds on the track from 79 mph to 110 mph. The peak of the project is supposed to create over 5,500 jobs for Wisconsin. Therefore, my question is: Why in the world are we stopping this?
Doyle's reasoning behind pausing the plan is to not encroach on the soon-to-be governor's decision making. But I believe it's because he doesn't want to waste any more money on a project that Walker aims to permanently shut down.
It is important to note that what has already been spent of the stimulus money must be paid back if the project is canceled within the first 20 years of commencement. This includes $14.5 million in contract cancellation fees. The $83.4 million spent to upgrade the Hiawatha line, regardless of the new rail system, will also be added to further burden taxpayers.
It seems to be easy for Walker to forget about these costs. His plans to demolish the project show his lack of concern for the engineers, construction workers and contractors who have been promised employment—individuals who will find themselves out of work under Walker's authority.
The Chicago tribune reported Walker saying he doesn't want the high-speed rail project to go through because he thinks it is a ""waste of taxpayer money."" He'd rather the funds go to repairing roads and bridges. Unfortunately for him, the $810 million allotted to Wisconsin is strictly allocated for a rail stimulus package. In order for the funds to be transferred to another project, new laws would have to be passed by Congress. This is not likely since 25 other states applied for this stimulus money for a total of 77 different rail projects. States like New York would be happy to stimulate their own economies with the funds we are about to carelessly throw away.
A Wisconsin DOT representative, Cari Anne Renlund, makes a good case for the installation of the high-speed railway, according to stateline.org. To those complaining about the subsidies the state would have to pay each year for rail upkeep, Renlund argues that currently, ""the state pays $1.38 per Wisconsin resident on rail, compared to $360 per person on bridges, highways and roads."" When taking these statistics into account, the rail doesn't sound like such a bad deal to me.
Walker wants to repair roads and bridges, but he doesn't have any funds guaranteed for this purpose. The millions of dollars already spent on this project will go to waste if the project is canceled. We will then have to pay the government this money back, putting our state into further economic trouble with absolutely nothing to show for it. In his first year, it seems Walker would want to improve Wisconsin's economy—not dig it into a ditch.
Ultimately, the problem is that Walker, and the citizens who voted for him, are not thinking long term. Who's to say that an investment today couldn't turn in to a huge benefit a few years down the line? Government officials can't just snap their fingers and solve all of our problems, repairing an economy takes time. This high-speed rail project has been developing for almost 20 years. So Walker, give it a chance and don't shut it down the first day you take the governor's seat.
Jaime Brackeen is a sophomore intending to major in journalism. Please send all feedback to email@example.com.