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Scrapbook: John Muir Chapter Rallies for Public Transportation

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January 05, 2011

John Muir Chapter Rallies for Public Transportation

WI HSR Rally flag

The following is a guest post from the Sierra Club John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin, detailing their winter 2010 fight to save a high speed rail project that would have connected the state's largest cities. 

Governor-elect Scott Walker rejected federal funds for the project totaling $822 million, and on December 9, 2010 Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood reallocated Wisconsin's rail funding to California, Illinois and other states to complete their own high speed rail projects.

--Rachel Butler, Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign.

Progress Derailed: Intercity High-Speed Rail Would Have Moved Wisconsin Forward
by the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club

Wisconsin was on track to reap the benefits of expanded transportation choices, economic development, and thousands of new jobs from a high-speed rail line connecting its major metropolitan areas, until Governor-elect Scott Walker derailed the project.

In 2010, Wisconsin was awarded $822 million dollars in federal grant funds to extend the popular Hiawatha passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison as part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which would build a 3,000-mile passenger rail network connecting a nine state area featuring frequent service and top speeds of 110 MPH.

Trains in the Racine - Kenosha – Milwaukee – Brookfield – Watertown - Madison corridor could conveniently serve 2.2 million Wisconsinites, or 40% of the state's population. The rail line would give travelers convenient access to our largest airports and a host of sports, arts and entertainment opportunities along the main business and educational artery in Wisconsin. Communities served by intercity passenger rail would benefit from quiet zones and safety upgrades to railway crossings.

Unfortunately, Governor-elect Walker decided to cancel the rail project and return Wisconsin taxpayer's money to the federal government. He was heavily influenced by a radical minority whose arguments ignore the boondoggle of spending billions of our tax dollars on ever-expanding roads.

In November 2010, the Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter reacted to news that contractors were ordered to halt construction on the intercity high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison.

With partners across the state, the John Muir Chapter scrambled to organize a Statewide Day of Action to Save the Train on November 20. Over 1,000 people braved chilly temperatures to speak out to save the train at rallies held in Madison, Milwaukee, Watertown, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh, and Menomonie, Wisconsin on November 20. At the Madison rally, one speaker unrolled a scroll comprised of over 7,000 supporters who had recently signed a petition in support of the project (see the photo below).

WI HSR Rally Petition

The rallies to save the train were far from partisan events. Republican Bob Lien, owner of Lien Tech Inc, Steel Fabricator, of Stoughton, spoke about how abandoning this project, for which he was awarded a bid, puts half of his business for next year on hold. Amy Gearhart, Chair of the College Democrats of Wisconsin, spoke compellingly at Rainbow Park in Oshkosh about losing quality graduates from UW-System schools to other states with better transit.

Sadly, Governor-Elect Walker was unmoved by the groundswell of grassroots support for expanding passenger train service. As a result, on December 9, 2010, Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood reallocated Wisconsin's rail funding to California, Illinois, North Carolina and other states who will gladly accept the funds and benefits of expanding passenger train service.

"Wisconsin is now on track to become an economic backwater," said Elizabeth Ward, Programs Staff for the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter. "Wisconsin's loss - the jobs, economic development, increased tourism - are other states' gains."

Fully implementing passenger train service would have created 9,570 jobs, $173 million in additional household income, and $704 million in increased property values for Wisconsin. When Wisconsin lost this project, we also lost the opportunity to take 500,000 cars off the road. It would have reduced traffic, our dependence on oil, and carbon dioxide emissions by 190,000 metric tons per year.

Despite this tremendous disappointment, we will continue the fight for clean transportation that Wisconsin needs. "Whether it's to reduce greenhouse gases or to avoid congestion, Wisconsin citizens need transportation choices," explained Liz Wessel, head of the Clean Transportation Team for Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter.

Ready to take action on transportation?  Join the Sierra Club's Transportation Activists or contact the John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin with questions about Wisconsin's clean transportation campaign.

The Sierra Club John Muir Chapter thanks Katherine Olson for taking the photographs from the Madison rally featured in this post.

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