State deserved better

The Obama administration’s cold shoulder to Wisconsin on improvements to the Hiawatha line smacks of payback.

Editorial by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 9, 2011

Ridership on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha rail line has doubled in the past eight years, hitting a record 792,848 in 2010. A recent study rates the Hiawatha route as one of the nation’s most promising prospects for an upgrade to high-speed rail.

Yet that line has been deemed unworthy of receiving any federal money for an upgrade, at least for now. If this is payback for Gov. Scott Walker’s refusal to support a high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, it’s an ugly payback. Such decisions always should be based on sound policy, not politics.

Nevertheless, given the importance of rail to Wisconsin, Walker, local officials and the state’s business community should do what they can to make sure Wisconsin is included the next time the feds dole out money for rail.

Make no mistake: Walker was wrong to reject the federal money for a Milwaukee-to-Madison fast rail line. But he supported the Hiawatha improvements.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was a strong proponent of both upgrades, recognizing the important role that fast rail can play in the transportation network. The Milwaukee business community was on board with the Hiawatha upgrades, too.

Everyone should be. More trains making faster trips can only improve business opportunity and economic development. That push should continue with renewed vigor despite the setback Monday.

On Monday, Hiawatha was not on the list of 22 projects in 15 states that will share $2 billion in federal high-speed rail money that had been rejected by Florida.

There was a hint of payback in U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s announcement, which mentioned five other Midwestern states that had joined Wisconsin in an application:

“The announcements we’re making today are with the strongest partners in America,” LaHood told reporters. “These are reliable people. These are people (who) have as one of their highest priorities the development of high-speed rail.”

Apparently, that doesn’t include Wisconsin, which is too bad. But while Walker may not have been “reliable” on one line, he’s been a steadfast supporter of the Hiawatha.

The Obama administration should have done better for the Badger State.

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