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Opponents: Rail study won’t sway opinions

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Kevin Hoffman
September 27, 2010

An independent study suggesting a high-speed rail in Wisconsin would create thousands of jobs and reduce greenhouse gases is unlikely to sway public opinion, opponents say.


A study completed by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group concludes that a nine-state Midwest rail system would create 13,000 permanent jobs in the state and thousands more during the 10-year construction phase.


It also analyzes the potential environmental impact of a high-speed rail. By lowering road congestion and dependence on oil, the study suggests a train would reduce carbon emissions by 188,000 tons each year—equal to 34,000 cars.


But the non-partisan group’s report isn’t drawing attention away from the price tag. Opponents believe if the project continues, it’ll only flush the state deeper into debt.


“Jim Doyle is trying to do whatever he can to create a liberal legacy in Wisconsin by ramming through this $810 million train boondoggle,” said Casey Himebauch, chairman of the Republican Party of Walworth County.


“By pushing out studies from a California ‘non-partisan’ group to inflate the projected benefits,” he added, “they are trying to hide the fact that just months ago, their own 13,000 jobs number they were pushing was slashed to 55 permanent jobs. That is almost $15 million per job created.”


The rail divided political parties, even before the federal government announced Wisconsin won an $810 million transportation grant.


Supporters suggest a high-speed rail would boost economic development in communities along its path. Like the recent study, they also predict job growth and environmental benefits.


But Republican opponents question the fallout from maintaining a rail system. Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said it’s likely Wisconsin taxpayers would be on the hook for maintenance, and he fears transportation funds flowing away from state roads will worsen their condition.


“It’s a pipedream,” said Leroy Watson, Libertarian candidate for the 31st Assembly.


“There’s no credibility (to the study) because there’s no way you can estimate there would be that many new jobs.”


One of the proposed stations is in Watson’s hometown of Oconomowoc. He believes if plans move forward, his city would be responsible for millions in cleaning and operational costs.


The future of the project might depend on who’s elected this fall.


A Republican-led legislature could put an end to the rail, and gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker already promised he would stop the train if voted into office.


“Wisconsin families are smarter than Jim Doyle and Tom Barrett think,” Himebauch said. “… The citizens that I’ve been talking to are not buying what they are selling.”



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