trains vs. automobiles
Rather than putting words about his cancelling the high-speed rail into Governor Walker’s mouth, here is an actual letter he wrote while campaigning. Remember, he won. Enough people agreed with his logic to vote him into office. Especially interesting to me is his mention of the maintenence costs of such a system, which had not occurred to me but should have as I was intimately involved in maintaining the NYC subway system. Remember, growth is dead. Where would Wisconsin get their 80% share of the cost to maintain the new system?
Also, as a former member of construction management teams, I can attest that cost overruns on new construction are the norm nowadays: to get a contract builders have to bid low and make their profits on “change orders” that increase costs. Walker was correct to be concerned about them.
Here is that letter:
Dear President Obama:
Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray La Hood was in Wisconsin to release $46.7 million of the $810 million in federal stimulus money designated for a train line between Milwaukee and Madison. Releasing these federal funds now is both premature and irresponsible. Public support for the Madison-Milwaukee train has fallen to just 41% as weary taxpayers watch our roads and bridges crumble without sufficient funds to repair them.
Still, Secretary La Hood declared that: “High-speed rail is coming to Wisconsin,” and “there’s no stopping it.”
I am drawing a line in the sand Mr. President: No matter how much money you and Governor Doyle try to spend before the end of the year, I will put a stop to this boondoggle the day I take office.
It’s outrageous for Secretary La Hood to suggest that your administration can force Wisconsin to continue building a train it doesn’t want and cannot afford. Almost as outrageous as the fact that the decision to saddle Wisconsin taxpayers with untold millions in operating and maintenance costs, forever, was never debated or voted on by the Wisconsin legislature. If it had been, this letter would not be necessary.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, my opponent in the race to replace Governor Doyle, has made the Milwaukee to Madison train the centerpiece of his economic development plan for Wisconsin. The Mayor tells us that spending $810 million on high-speed rail will create thousands of new Wisconsin jobs, but according to the federal government’s own estimate, the total number of permanent jobs created will be 55. That’s $14.5 million per job, not including any hidden costs!
As for hidden costs, no one in your administration, nor Governor Doyle or Mayor Barrett can provide an accurate estimate of what it will cost to operate and maintain the new rail line. Rail projects in numerous other areas have seen original cost estimates skyrocket once construction begins.
In addition, study after study shows that rail passenger fares are likely to cover only 20% of the operating costs. That leaves hardworking Wisconsin families to pick up the other 80% through higher taxes and fees.
It’s reckless of Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett to commit to spending $810 million of our money on a boondoggle train when we can’t even afford to fix our roads and bridges. Our state is facing a $2.5 billion hole in next year’s budget and a list a mile long of transportation needs. If your administration is truly interested in helping Wisconsin build the transportation infrastructure it needs and desires, you should allow us to use this money for roads and bridges instead.
Governor Doyle and Secretary La Hood say we can’t stop the train. I say, just watch us.
Milwaukee County Executive
Republican Candidate for Governor
I think a major point is being missed. Are we going to try to prepare for a future with less oil and less money, or are we going to go on in a BAU manner? Many years ago when I was in college, I took a bunch of urban studies courses, one of which dealt with our transportation systems. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but a break down of the expenses to each of us for supporting the automobile as our primary means of transportation were astronomical. I mean truly breath taking. It is probably our greatest expense by far. I don’t imagine the proportion of our incomes it takes to support that system has gone down any since then.
The fact then, as now, is that a clean efficient mass transit system is far less expensive than the automobile system, particularly in urban areas and major transportation corridors. In my opinion, Gov. Walker’s priorities are locked into the automobile age that will soon be passing. On this site the fact that we didn’t do anything 30 years ago to move to renewable energy systems is frequently lamented. We had the warning signs then, but energy was cheap and Americans wasteful. Thus, we missed a golden opportunity.
I truly believe we must start now to build a system of transportation that is efficient and clean. High speed rail is the best system I know of to achieve that goal. If that means taking money from road maintenance and building, then so be it. My guess is that Gov. Walker would have jumped all over an offer of $810M to maintain roads or build new ones.
Although I have driven the road from Madison to Milwaukee, it was many years ago and today I don’t have a clear idea how heavily traveled that road is. There is a threshhold beyond which automobile travel makes more sense than a train. I don’t know whether the one recommended by the USDOT is over that threshhold or not. But, to discard the idea out of hand without doing an analysis is foolhardy. If we are going to rebuild our infrastructure systems to meet a future with less oil and less money, we have to be thinking more clearly about our options.