Talgo Execs, Milwaukee, Racine Officials Blast Walker Administration on Transit and Jobs
Turning down $810 million for high-speed rail and not honoring the state's contract with Talgo is killing job creation in the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor. Focusing so heavily on roadways is a "path to nowhere," Racine Mayor John Dickert said.
According to Talgo executives, Racine Mayor John Dickert and Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, the short-sightedness of the Gov. Walker and the Republican-led legislature is killing job creation in the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor.
More, the lack of cost-effective and efficient mass and commuter transit is leaving Wisconsin and the country behind the rest of the developed world.
The group met today on the tracks of what used to be the Northwestern Rail line in Racine to talk about how important trains are to the present and future of the region. While the tracks aren't used for passenger trains any longer, freight trains regularly use the line now owned by Union Pacific.
Dickert specifically pointed out how Walker's continued dedication to roads will raise taxes and lead to greater economic strain because of costs.
"It costs $385 million to build rail with the potential for $2 to $3 billion in economic development along the corridor," he said. "Getting one extra lane on I-94 from the airport to Illinois costs $2 billion. Continuing to focus on highways only leads to higher taxes, higher fuel costs and even bankruptcy."
What our region needs, he continued, is a complete intermodal system so the region resembles that of other communities with healthy mass transit systems.
"Look at Minneapolis or Seattle, they're both growing," Dickert continued. "In Iowa, they've seen $1 billion in economic development because of one leg of a commuter train line. We could be like that, too. We want to create that movement of people in our district. We know it. The rest of the world knows it, but they don't know it in Madison."
Talgo President Antonio Perez and Vice President Nora Friend both slammed the Walker administration for not fulfilling the terms of the state's contract with the train company.
"The Walker Administration has committed tragic blunders for the state," Friend said. "This is about political agenda fulfillment only and means manufacturing businesses that are key for economic development will not come to Wisconsin if this is how the state is going to treat them."
Friend refers to a vote earlier this spring in the Legislature that cut off funding for maintenance stations for Talgo trains that would replace aging trains for Amtrak on the Hiawatha Line that runs between Chicago and Milwaukee. She says the Department of Transportation study is a lie that said the 20- to 30-year-old equipment would be cheaper to maintain than new Talgo trains.
"They say using the new Talgo trains would cost more, but we've been doing this since 1942 so we know it would be less expensive," she said. "They're not taking into account increased ridership and fuel savings with the new trains over the old."
Perez said the company will meet its contractual obligations, but doesn't seem to have a lot of hope anything will change despite Dickert's and Hines' staunch support.
"There's been no progress and no honoring of their agreement," he said. "We will meet our contractual obligations."
What a commuter rail line provides, Perez continued, is a link and a way to spur economic development.
Mount Pleasant President Carolyn Milkie agreed and said she was disappointed when first the high-speed rail line was killed and then so was the KRM commuter rail.
"In vibrant cities like Seattle and San Antonio people get to places without driving, and property values are higher," she said. "Younger people look for that amenity because so many aren't driving these days."
According to a statistic cited by Dickert, a full 26 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 34 aren't getting driver's licenses.
"Killing mass tranportation initiatives is detrimental to Southeast Wisconsin and the state as a whole," Milkie added. "Owning a car is expensive and a lot of people can't afford it or just don't want it. Bus service should be expanded not cut."
She said that according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, placing a transit hub of some kind on the southeast side of the village could have helped revitalize the area.
"Having a stop there would have brought in businesses for the riders who would board there and eventually, would have improved the neighborhood there, too," she said.
Hines understands the need for better mass and commuter transit because of how it leads to jobs. The state discontinuing the contract with Talgo, he said, means there's division when there should be partnerships.
"It creates a divide between the city and Taglo and not allowing the City of Milwaukee to work with the City of Racine," he said. "Trains are the transportation of the future, and I stand here with Talgo to do everything I can to make the necessary corrections, to correct the wrong. I'm standing here with Mayor Dickert to help make sure we can link the City of Milwaukee and work in greater partnership."
Dickert said he and Hines, along with the leaders of other communities, hope to show legislators in Madison how important it is pass effective intermodal transportation.
"The fact is we talk about efficiencies so now it's time to do it," Dickert said. "Trains are at the top of the list for making transportation more effective and efficient. Having trains helps growth, and we need an efficient system that is less costly than cars."