Clock runs out on Wisconsin high-speed rail money.

[When done reading, stop here & joing today’s open rant]

Just this morning I learned that Gary Grunau was pulling together Milwaukee businesses to fight for Wisconsin’s train by December 15th. I thought, “About time!”

Apparently “about time” was not in time. Today first an AP leak came out and then the formal announcement: Wisconsin’s and Ohio’s combined 1.2 billion dollars in high-speed rail money would be doled out to 13 states.

A tiny bit of good news: the federal government is not demanding that Wisconsin pay back the money used to plan this project. However, Wisconsin was also to get money to upgrade rail that currently slows down freight to 10 miles per hour between Milwaukee to Madison. And previously we had $82 million in the project to upgrade the Hiawatha line Chicago to Milwaukee. Now we are left with a sliver of that sum: $2 million.

For others, our Red State Gov-Elect’s stubborn position yields riches. Ray LaHood, our nation’s DOT Secretary, said on his blog, “Because Wisconsin and Ohio are not moving forward on high-speed rail projects, more money is available for other states…” While the governors of California, New York, and Illinois were most publicly clamoring for Wisconsin’s rail money, demand for it came from all quarters:

“For that first $8 billion investment, we received more than $55 billion in requests. We were similarly oversubscribed for the second round of awards–we received $8.8 billion worth of requests for only $2.4 billion in available funding.”

Ironically, just as Wisconsin has come to a halt on its passenger rail plans, Minnesota is otherwise perfectly poised to move forward. Their new pro-high-speed rail Governor-Elect Dayton just won by 9,000 votes in a recount. Minnesota DOT officials informed about 650 people in a packed ballroom Tuesday night in Madison that the intercity passenger rail plans favor connection of the largest population centers. But now that Wisconsin is out of the picture, will Minnesota and DOT push for a passenger line to run from Chicago to Dubuque and then North to Minneapolis – right around Wisconsin?

A sensible answer might be: “No. Minnesota and the federal government will wait until a more transit-friendly governor is elected in Wisconsin”. But in these times, it might make a perfect statement and a taunt for generations to install millions of dollars of business and infrastructure just out of reach but always within view of the Wisconsin border.

More:

Political impact in 2012 to Obama is a positive, not a negative according to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “You can ask governors-elect whether they decided not to put people in their own state to work just because Barack Obama proposed it as a project,” he said. “My hunch is that there are people sitting around their kitchen tables in Ohio and Wisconsin who are wondering why they’re not at work because [of] a partisan political food-fight by a governor-elect.”

Ohio’s current governor Ted Strickland says “Today is one of the saddest days during my four years as governor,”

Steve Vance shows how 1.2 billion will be distributed to 13 states.

Looking back a bit:

The relocation of Madison station to downtown from airport actually increased projected ridership by about 30%.

Here’s that Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article that buried the November 20th news about 6 statewide “Save the Train” rallies below a sea of numbers [something I found galling].

650 people pack Madison high-speed rail open house hosted by Minnesota DOT

Students from UW Milwaukee

At last night’s Madison high-speed rail open house I sat in the front row elbow-to-elbow with 650 people in a packed ballroom where people stood against the walls 5 deep.

Officials and consultants from Minnesota’s Department of Transportation came to offer technical answers about their study of possible routes passenger rail could take between Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The audience came to ask questions but also to vent.

Before their time in the ballroom, Mayor Dave of Madison and a cadre of leaders spoke to the press. The crowd laughed and cheered when Mayor Dave said that Governor-elect Scott Walker needs to be a governor for the entire state and not just for some talk radio hosts in Milwaukee and Madison.

MN DOT estimates 650 people attended

Scott Walker – who still maintains the train is “dead” – did not appear, and no representative came to stand-in for the Governor-Elect. This was made clear when a man from the audience asked, “Is the Governor-Elect here or his representative?” The crowd waited, looked around, and then sent up a laugh and muttered en masse after it became clear the answer was “no”.

The moment that made the air sizzle came when a man stepped up to the microphone and said “How are we gonna pay for this? Are we gonna just go printing money? Will we have monopoly money?” A booming voice yelled from my right, “The highways do not pay for themselves!!” The man two seats to the left of me visibly jerked in his seat and yelled and a chorus of yelled insults and rebuttals followed while boos erupted behind us. The yelling was quickly equaled by people shushing and murmurring things like “settle down” as the speaker walked across the room in front of me.

One audience member asked, “What if the project is scrapped. How long until this comes back to us?”. This led to numerous snorts and huffing noises from people around me and one woman muttered “Then we’re screwed”. The official answer, I believe, was 5 years.

Another man from the audience said,”It seems to me you should add an all-Illinois route. Could this plan be realized purely through an all-Illinois route?”  Response: We were selected to study a Milwaukee to Minneapolis route. About half of the audience’s questions were answered with a similar statement.

An owner of several retail stores in Madison said, “I support the train, airporats and roads. …I ask those that have raised the question, ‘How do we pay for this?’ –  Would we save money if we did not build the airport? Would we save money if we did not build the roads to Madison? There is a season for everything. We just got through a political campaign season.This is now the season to govern. Take “liberal” or “democrat” out of this. Take “pro-business” out.  Make the best decision for the economy, for Wisconsin. Please.” Applause followed.

Most of the audience wore these stickers

Some in the audience gave their own comments on the rail financial picture. Ed Kuharski noted that railroads pay taxes to the  local village, town, or county that they run through while airports and highways have no corollary tax contribution to make. A woman [who I found out later was a tea party activist] got up to say that we could not afford the train on top of Wisconsin’s deficit.

One man said, ” Did the I-90 highway go through the same amount of scrutiny that this rail project did?”

Another got up to point out that the University of Kansas has done much research to establish that use of freight rail reduces wear and tear on highways.

Two comments that drew great laughter and applause: “Let me put it this way – if I’m going to buy a dress for 900$ and somebody is going to give me $600 for that dress why would you turn that down?” and from another woman, “I’m 72 – how much longer do you want me on the road?”

Badger Herald‘s video does a good job of capturing the event’s mood while its article goes into the methodology of the DOT study and next steps for the process.

What’s next? Wisconsin high-speed rail updates November 24

What next? Good question. Wisconsin had 7 pro-rail rallies Saturday and a Talgo vigil in Milwaukee last night. Meanwhile our Governor-Elect Walker has not budged. Here are 2 actions that take it local:

  1. Eau Claire City Council sent its own pro-rail message to Walker.
  2. Appleton public library is hosting a pro-train forum scheduled for December 2nd.

Plus these Wisconsin and Minnesota DOT “open houses” could easilyl turn into rallies for rail. Some of the linked dates take you to a Save the Train facebook events page:

November 29 in St. Paul, MN,

November 30 La Crosse

December 1 Eau Claire

December 2 Fond du Lac

December 6 in Rochester, MN

December 7 Madison

A case of the “shoulds”: Emily Mill shakes her finger at the factioned and  fractured Left. She says don’t boo at moderates who want to help and get your focus on.

Who will ride this train? People that already ride the Hiawatha from Chicago to Milwaukee, for one. That line has had an increase in ridership of 49 percent in the past 5 years.

Can you hear that whistle blow? Three radio rail conversations, here.  Robbie Webber was guest on the Monday November 21 edition of Pubic Affair plus, the chief organizer of the statewide rallies, Sierra Club’s Shahla Werner, is on that evening’s In Our Backyard. Both shows are archived with WORT-FM. And West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition clued me in on a 1 hour WWIB broadcast held November 19th – directly linked at their blog.

Does this have legs? CNN Money says a Florida Democrat is “sponsoring a Holocaust Accountability and Corporate Responsibility Act that would prevent companies from bidding on high speed rail contracts if they participated in the Holocaust and haven’t resolved claims brought by victims and their families”. Which would include a couple of high speed rail companies.

And a sweet tweet: shevegasWisconsin Senator Petri flopped so hard on High Speed Rail he had to hurt something http://is.gd/hHLF0

Coverage of Wisconsin Save the Train rallies for high-speed rail: Madison, Milwaukee, Watertown, Eau Claire, Oshkosh, La Crosse

My collection of coverage of Saturday November 20th’s statewide rallies to Save the Train. My rally attendance numbers are from articles, tweets, and blog posts. Let me know if you find an article/blog post/video/photo album to add. These rallies were sponsored by Sierra Club.

MADISON: I’ve heard these numbers: 300, 500, and 1,000 “My brother is a cop in Madison He said there were 1000 people present.”

Madison Rally Image from @onewisconsinnow


Republican Bob Lien got some booing but got through to the crowd in Madison, WI “…he and his company, which won a tentative work bid with the train, are in support of the stimulus project. The train issue, he said, has been manipulated unfairly by both sides, and though he would support using the federal money for roads and bridges, because that can’t happen, he supports the train.”-Isthmus

Video report from ABC’s Channel 27 WKOW.com. Good, good coverage.

NBC 15 got Mark Pocan’s great job stirring up the crowd. Perish the thought that Illinois might get Wisconsin’s rail $!

Channel3000 site-Excellent article chock-a-block with quotes.

Good collection of images at Forward Lookout and on flickr.com.

Image from Badger Herald, a UW-Madison student newspaper

UW student paper, Badger Herald’s good article, and finally, here is the meager stub of an article pushed out of Wisconsin State Journal.

 

 

 

 

MILWAUKEE 200-300 rallied


Owly Images
Milwaukee Rally Image from @CreativeCooler

TMJ4 reported from Milwaukee live. Nice job Jay Olstad.

The Daily Reporter in Milwaukee has been knocking out a great collection of articles on this passenger rail project .

Paltry effort from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  But there are 127 comments HERE.

LA CROSSE 50 -75 rallied

Here’s a fave picture from Robert Freedland’s scrapbook of La Crosse photos:

Good job, La Crosse WXOW19.

OSHKOSH 50-100 rallied

I’ve noticed a lot of TV stations don’t write much on their web sites – so when 1 does, I have to say “atta boy”. Channel 2 WBAY did excellent video + a good article. Executive Director of John Muir Chapter of Sierra Club Shahla Werner is quoted.

Northwestern.com’s article.

WATERTOWN: 100-125 rallied

Apparently I am the only person who blogged/wrote about Watertown? 125 people. Great crowd. Go HERE.

EAU CLAIRE: 100 rallied

Eau Claire’s main paper has a paywall now. Only a couple free paragraphs on their rally

100 folks shivered in Eau Claire at their rally-here- some images and words from Uppity Wisconsin. By the way-consider that this was 1) opening day of deer season, 2) a friggin cold place at 25 degrees & windy, and 3) in the 1st half of the Badger football game. Impressive.

Summing up the Watertown Save the Train Rally

Wow. The Watertown Save the Train rally for high-speed rail. 125 people in the parking lot of a shuttered Pick N Save grocery store, us all shivering a little but at least under a sunny sky. No microphones or bullhorns. Just Mayor Ron Krueger – who everybody seems to really like, by the way – who talked about the lost economic value and connections to the world that losing the high speed rail means to Watertown. The crowd frequently interrupted to applaud him. He really did his homework on the value of the depot & projected tax revenue from it but my cold fingers just couldn’t keep up to record it. One factoid of his that I recall: the planned train depot could have meant $25 million dollars in business development for the Watertown region.

We were standing in that vast parking lot next to a river because it was the chosen location for Watertown’s high speed rail station.

Statements from the crowd:

“I am from Beaver Dam. This is not just a Watertown thing. This would benefit the entire region!”

“I’ve ridden on trains Talgo manufactured in Europe. They are a premier manufacturer of these trains. If we lose Talgo, we’ve lost a lot of potential for Wisconsin.”

“We need to support trains and freight. They are efficient. One gallon of diesel can carry a freight car 500 miles. [he really did say that]”

“This passenger rail is not just a piece. There is a network of rail that will cover the U.S.”

And several people mentioned that it makes sense to connect UW Madison – which they noted is a state “star” for education and research – by passenger rail to Milwaukee, Chicago, and the greater world.

After the mayor spoke, people asked questions “How much does it really cost to maintain this for the state?” “Won’t this help people when the oil prices rise?” The mayor answered very well in the case of economic development, I chimed in with some stats I remembered. Greg David spoke as well, as did the Jefferson County supervisor, Walt Christianson.

Greg David talked about environmental benefits of getting cars off of the road, and talked mostly about “peak oil”: the concept that oil is a finite resource and that we have reached that point where its increasing scarcity combined with our dependence upon it edges humanity ever closer to peril.

I asked Greg how many of the crowd were in his “green” group, Sustain Jefferson. About 12 was his reply. When I asked individuals how they found out about this rally, they almost universally replied, “the notice in the local paper”, the Watertown Daily Times.

Watertown native Matt Dannenberg of Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters spoke up as well as a volunteer from Sierra Club who said business owners and Wisconsin citizens need to be the strongest forces in the Save the Train movement.

Anne Johnson of the Jefferson County Democrats urged all to join in on a January 11th listening session. Anne made clear it is not a political meeting, but instead more of a meeting of minds to support the Jefferson County area and bring people together.

Downtown Watertown, Wisconsin

At the conclusion the crowd talked about what to do next. Answers included writing letters to Walker, making calls, banding together more, and writing letters to the editor. Several commented that the flow of money into the state from political groups was hard to beat, and I heard several complaining about the opening up of campaign spending by the “Citizens United” case.

The John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club organized Saturday’s 6 rallies which occurred in Madison, Milwaukee, Watertown, Oshkosh, Eau Claire, and La Crosse.

Sierra Club accepts online donations right HERE. All signs indicate that they did a great job – pulling rallies together, getting publicity, and uniting a wide grassroots base across the state.

To contact Governor-Elect Scott Walker, see his web site or write him an old-fashioned paper letter here:

Office of Governor-Elect Scott Walker
17 West Main Street, Suite 310
Madison WI 53703

I’d suggest

(1) the paper letter and then (2) sending an editorial – a brief 1 or 2 paragraphs – to Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and (3) a call to Scott Walker’s office: 608-261-9200

Editorial email address at Wisconsin State Journal: wsjopine@madison.com

Editorial email at Milwaukee J. Sentinel: jsedit@journalsentinel.com

Also-It helps to be ready with the facts. Here’s my myth-bustinig article

6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

It’s a pretty amazing day. Six rallies in Wisconsin to support the Wisconsin passenger rail project that Scott Walker wants to reject. They are in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Watertown, Oshkosh, and Eau Claire and all at NOON. I’ll be going to Watertown, where there is/was a station for the planned route and Mayor Ron Krueger is speaking. More info is HERE on facebook or at the Sierra Club website.

Before I go – I’ll look at answering the anti-rail “choo choo” crowd’s jeers, I mean, “questions”.

Speed?: Illuminating radio personality Vicki McKenna said the service would go at “cow speed” in a recent tweet.  Facts: The train will operate at 79 mph initially when installed in 2013. By December 2015, speeds increase – 90‐110 mph between Milwaukee‐Watertown and 110 mph between Watertown‐Madison.

True “high speed” is about 150 mph. In a national master plan, a high speed rail runs Chicago to Minneapolis in the future –  building off of this line.

Too expensive to maintain? Scott Walker, Governor as of January 3rd, 2011, says that the train will be a wasteful “boondoggle” and too expensive to maintain.

I turn to James Rowen’s blog “The Political Environment” and a piece called “Did WISDOT analyse the costs and benefits of the Madison-Milwaukee Rail Line – and its termination?” He reminds us that 100% of the construction – or $810 million – comes from the federal stimulus plan. And, 90% of the yearly maintenance is covered by the federal gov’t as well. Leaving us with $750,000 to cover. This figure, I recall, is 0.03% of our yearly DOT budget.

On paying for that $750,000- Rowen says, it’s covered. And I agree: “The train was to produce more than 4,700 construction jobs through 2013 and create at least 55 full-time operator and other jobs just in this Wisconsin piece of a Midwestern network,  – – so my question is, did the state figure out what the projected state income tax payments would be on worker and contractor salaries, for example, and also the projected sales taxes on materials purchased for the line’s construction?”

If we build it, will they come?: You’ll see this comment from critics-“Nobody will ride the train” There’s statistical analysis done by DOT using the same models they use for any traffic that show 300,000 people will ride the train per year Milwaukee to Madison, and of course more when it goes to Minneapolis[Note-A commenter left a note that explains why 300,000 is a very conservative number]. But I know a lot of people can’t trust stats. Robbie Webber does a nice write up on that in her rail myth-busting piece. Just an excerpt:

I think the naysayers would be very surprised how many people commute between Madison and Milwaukee every day for work. Or somewhere in between like Watertown or Delafield. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either do this commute themselves, or work with someone that does the commute. Why do these people live so far away? Some are part of a couple where one person works in Milwaukee, and the other in Madison. Some changed jobs and don’t want to uproot the family. Some love living in the country, and a long commute is the price they pay. Some are at temporary positions and see no reason to move for a job that may be over in a year or so….The three things that will convince people to not drive (for certain trips) are: time, money, and a pleasant experience. For some people one of these is more important than others. Some people will do anything to save a few bucks, even if it means getting there slower or in a less convenient way. For other people, they don’t care how much it costs, as long as it is fast. Still others just hate fighting traffic, and will do almost anything to not have to drive at certain times or to certain places. .. Being able to get an hour’s work done instead of being stressed out is a big incentive for many people.

Can you turn that $ into road $? Scott Walker ran on the campaign promise that he would first kill the train, and 2nd, turn that $ into money for “crumbling roads and bridges”. In this DOT financial planning document, you will see read that the money is for intercity passenger rail only. Also, if deadlines are missed, the money goes to other eligible projects in a similar class. Ignoring this, Walker persisted, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reasserted that the money is for high speed rail. And other states wait in line for it eagerly. Governors in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have all communicated some or a lot of willingness to take that $810 million off of Wisconsin’s hands.

Lastly, a myth-buster article I have shared widely is Opponents spew myths about high-speed rail by Mike Schafer from BizTimes.com.

6 rallies in Wisconsin for high speed rail [AKA intercity rail]

It’s a pretty amazing day. Six rallies in Wisconsin to support the Wisconsin passenger rail project that Scott Walker wants to reject. They are in Madison, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Watertown, Oshkosh, and Eau Claire and all at NOON. I’ll be going to Watertown, where there is/was a station for the planned route and Mayor Ron Krueger is speaking. More info is HERE on facebook or at the Sierra Club website.

Before I go – I’ll look at answering the anti-rail “choo choo” crowd’s jeers, I mean, “questions”.

Speed?: Illuminating radio personality Vicki McKenna said the service would go at “cow speed” in a recent tweet.  Facts: The train will operate at 79 mph initially when installed in 2013. By December 2015, speeds increase – 90‐110 mph between Milwaukee‐Watertown and 110 mph between Watertown‐Madison.

True “high speed” is about 150 mph. In a national master plan, a high speed rail runs Chicago to Minneapolis in the future –  building off of this line.

Too expensive to maintain? Scott Walker, Governor as of January 3rd, 2011, says that the train will be a wasteful “boondoggle” and too expensive to maintain.

I turn to James Rowen’s blog “The Political Environment” and a piece called “Did WISDOT analyse the costs and benefits of the Madison-Milwaukee Rail Line – and its termination?” He reminds us that 100% of the construction – or $810 million – comes from the federal stimulus plan. And, 90% of the yearly maintenance is covered by the federal gov’t as well. Leaving us with $750,000 to cover. This figure, I recall, is 0.03% of our yearly DOT budget.

On paying for that $750,000- Rowen says, it’s covered. And I agree: “The train was to produce more than 4,700 construction jobs through 2013 and create at least 55 full-time operator and other jobs just in this Wisconsin piece of a Midwestern network,  – – so my question is, did the state figure out what the projected state income tax payments would be on worker and contractor salaries, for example, and also the projected sales taxes on materials purchased for the line’s construction?”

If we build it, will they come?: You’ll see this comment from critics-“Nobody will ride the train” There’s statistical analysis done by DOT using the same models they use for any traffic that show 300,000 people will ride the train per year Milwaukee to Madison, and of course more when it goes to Minneapolis[Note-A commenter left a note that explains why 300,000 is a very conservative number]. But I know a lot of people can’t trust stats. Robbie Webber does a nice write up on that in her rail myth-busting piece. Just an excerpt:

I think the naysayers would be very surprised how many people commute between Madison and Milwaukee every day for work. Or somewhere in between like Watertown or Delafield. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who either do this commute themselves, or work with someone that does the commute. Why do these people live so far away? Some are part of a couple where one person works in Milwaukee, and the other in Madison. Some changed jobs and don’t want to uproot the family. Some love living in the country, and a long commute is the price they pay. Some are at temporary positions and see no reason to move for a job that may be over in a year or so….The three things that will convince people to not drive (for certain trips) are: time, money, and a pleasant experience. For some people one of these is more important than others. Some people will do anything to save a few bucks, even if it means getting there slower or in a less convenient way. For other people, they don’t care how much it costs, as long as it is fast. Still others just hate fighting traffic, and will do almost anything to not have to drive at certain times or to certain places. .. Being able to get an hour’s work done instead of being stressed out is a big incentive for many people.

Can you turn that $ into road $? Scott Walker ran on the campaign promise that he would first kill the train, and 2nd, turn that $ into money for “crumbling roads and bridges”. In this DOT financial planning document, you will see read that the money is for intercity passenger rail only. Also, if deadlines are missed, the money goes to other eligible projects in a similar class. Ignoring this, Walker persisted, and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood reasserted that the money is for high speed rail. And other states wait in line for it eagerly. Governors in the states of California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have all communicated some or a lot of willingness to take that $810 million off of Wisconsin’s hands.

Lastly, a myth-buster article I have shared widely is Opponents spew myths about high-speed rail by Mike Schafer from BizTimes.com.