I make the case in this Isthmus column that establishing a passenger rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee would strengthen the state’s economy in the decades to come. Ain’t happening:
What was the single most important decision Gov. Scott Walker made in his first year of office? Hands down, the consensus judgment would be undermining the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
But 20 or 30 years from now? Wisconsinites will probably point to Walker’s fateful decision to reject an $810 million federal grant to build a passenger rail line connecting Madison and Milwaukee.
Chances are that the logic for the train will be evident to most everyone by then. The I-94 corridor linking Dane County with Milwaukee and Waukesha will likely be the state’s 21st-century economic engine. In turn, it will be a vital link in what technology booster Tom Still has called the “I-Q Corridor” — the 400-mile stretch of interstate connecting the heavyweight metropolises of Chicago and the Twin Cities.
“That corridor contains some of the nation’s leading research universities, well-educated tech workers and thriving tech-based companies at all stages of development,” Still, who’s president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, wrote a few years ago.
Now imagine an updated rail system carrying people from the Twin Cities to downtown Chicago in less than six hours — even faster than driving and on a par with a complicated airline connection.
Oops! Don’t consider it. That scenario is precisely what Walker killed when he gave back the $810 million — federal funding that would have paid the full capital costs of connecting Madison to Milwaukee.
Says Watertown Mayor Ron Krueger: “That decision will hurt the state of Wisconsin for decades to come.”