WISCONSINREPORT.COM (05/28/2009) - With many students heading home, starting their summer jobs, or beginning long vacations, forty students in the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) Student Chapters are travelling the route of the proposed high speed rail system in Wisconsin to build support for the project. From Green Bay to Milwaukee to Madison to La Crosse, the students are stopping in major towns and cities along the way, meeting with public officials and talking to the media about why they believe high-speed rail is essential for future transportation needs.
“Our goal is simple,” said Tony Uhl, one of the students who helped organize the four-day trip. “We’re here to demonstrate the widespread student enthusiasm for high-speed rail. The time is right – we’ll rebuild our economy, provide Wisconsinites transportation choices, and reduce our dependence on oil.”
Community leaders joined the students for their tour stop in Madison, where the students handed out bumper stickers that said “I’d rather be riding high-speed rail” and even donned a homemade chain of train cars, decorated for each major city along the route, to raise awareness and support for high-speed rail.
“Now is an exciting time for transit in Madison and the surrounding region,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. “President Obama is moving very quickly on the high speed rail and Joint Finance has approved our RTA. There’s much more work to do, but we are now well on our way to an expanded and truly regional public transit system.”
A high-speed rail system in Wisconsin would likely create nearly 10,000 new permanent jobs in the state. In Madison, intercity rail will create as many as 1,300 new jobs, increase household income by $16-$24 million, and increase property values by as much as $97 million. High-speed rail also uses far less energy than cars, significantly reducing our oil dependence and cutting harmful air pollution.
Congress this year passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which has dedicated $8 billion for high speed rail projects that have not yet been determined.
The Obama Administration has made it very clear that building a world class transportation system is a top priority, and that it plans to continue to make significant investments in high-speed rail in subsequent federal budgets. Governor Doyle is making significant progress in ensuring that Wisconsin seizes this rare opportunity as soon as possible to transform our state’s transportation system.
Doyle has already demonstrated leadership in reaching out to counterparts in the Midwest region to agree on priority corridors making up the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. Doyle, along with the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood a month ago asking him to consider funding HSR projects in our region.
According to the 2004 Midwest Regional Rail Initiative Executive Report, the Wisconsin segment of the Midwest corridor connecting Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago is in good standing for investment; it is identified as a Phase 1 Corridor, demonstrating the highest potential ridership per dollar.
“As students, we tend to drive less, so we want to live in areas with good transit systems and where we can easily travel to other cities,” said Uhl. “High speed rail would make Wisconsin a more livable, accessible and appealing place to live. It might even convince our friends that have recently graduated to stay in Wisconsin.”
To best connect to the high speed rail network, we need vibrant local transit systems. Governor Doyle has proposed, and the legislature is considering the creation of regional transit authorities (RTAs), enabling regional transportation planning with stable funding to expand local transportation options to include commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and other modernized bus and rail systems.
New regional projects could include the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail line, Dane county commuter rail, and upgraded bus service in other communities.
Under current Wisconsin laws, communities can’t organize their own RTAs to create modernized public transportation systems. Many other states have used RTAs to provide business-friendly, green, and convenient transportation choices.
“Now is the time to build a world class transportation system in Wisconsin,” said Bruce Speight of WISPIRG. “Building and interconnecting both local transit and intercity rail systems will create jobs and rebuild our economy in the short term, and keep Wisconsin globally competitive in the long term. Connecting our communities with high speed rail and vibrant local public transit systems will bring Wisconsin’s transportation system into the 21st century.”
WISPIRG is part of USPIRG. The role of the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) is to stand up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, U.S.PIRG and the state chapters take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety, political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.