13.2.10

FEDERAL CAPITAL GRANTS COME WITH A CATCH. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker accordingly objects to going forward with the Passenger Rail service to Madison.

The county executive, a Republican candidate for governor, said he might back the high-speed rail idea if "there was a model that could be shown where it was self-sufficient, where the operating costs were covered by the users." He acknowledged that also was unlikely.

Walker warned against hidden costs linked to the line, which he said ultimately could lead to cannibalizing other state transportation projects or prompt some new tax or fee. "There's no appetite for a tax increase," Walker said.

The article does not report whether Mr Walker objected to receiving Highway Trust Fund monies, which pay for some upgrades of arterial highways, which in turn encourage suburban development that calls for property taxes to provide and maintain the local roads. (Take a very long view: the Highway Trust Fund paid for Interstates 90 and 94, which diverted sufficient traffic from the 400s and Hiawathas that the railroad companies removed the signalling that permitted the 100 mph running, which made the trains less time-competitive with the Interstates, and that culminated in a spiral that led to the end of all the trains except the ones Amtrak ended up underwriting. The service that remains west of Milwaukee is what happens when the government preserves a day train across the Northern Tier with a service base in Chicago.)
Walker said he was concerned the operating costs for the rail line would take away money intended for road and bridge projects. The state's application for the federal railroad aid estimated operating subsidy costs at $7.5 million a year for the Milwaukee to Madison link and $8.1 million for upgraded service on the existing Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, according to the state's application for federal high-speed rail money. The annual subsidy would grow to $28 million for both links by 2022.
So make the Interstates toll roads. In particular, bill the trucks for the full incremental cost of congestion and more rapid depreciation they cause, then work with CPR to share the cost of two tracks all the way to LaCrosse with additional recessing sidings at strategic locations. (There's room near Caledonia at a location I remember as A-68, and room near New Lisbon for lots of infrastructure.)
[Walker] also questioned the basic premise of the line, saying the ticket cost likely would be too high to attract enough riders. [He] said the fast trains wouldn't be as swift as driving a car, when factoring in time needed to get to the Amtrak station in Milwaukee and time to get from a proposed rail station at the Madison airport to the state Capitol or other Madison destinations.
For people in Milwaukee or Brookfield with business at the Capitol or the University that's true. The value of the line, however, is in getting Madisonians to Mitchell Field or Glenview for O'Hare or for getting Racine and Kenosha area collegians (or Badger fans) to Yahara Station, and I hope Somebody In Authority is considering a station in Gurnee or perhaps Wadsworth for easy connectivity to Great America and the outlet malls on both sides of the State Line.

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