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Grizzly Alum: New interstate railway has potential to connect divided Wisconsin

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Charlie K., Opinion Editor

Former Grizzly writer Charlie K. is now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He proudly shared an investigative article published in his college paper the Badger Herald. He also gave us permission to share with our Grizzly readers.

Three Midwestern states partner with Amtrak to expand interstate passenger train system

· Nov 25, 2022

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois Departments of Transportation are partnering with Amtrak for the Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago Intercity Rail Project.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, construction on the railway is set to begin in 2023 and finish in 2025. The project will cost approximately $53 million. As of now, the railway will not include a Madison stop, but the project does leave room for a TCMC connecting shuttle service.

This news comes as a welcome addition for many Midwesterners who rely mostly on either the bus system or personal vehicles to get between cities across the Midwest. If the project is completed, it will be an especially huge win for Wisconsin residents, who haven’t seen many intercity rail lines go further than Milwaukee and Chicago. In fact, the only major Amtrak railway that runs through Wisconsin is the Empire Builder, and even it excludes the state’s capital of Madison from its route.

While the status of the TCMC rail seems hopeful, that “if” is still a major concern, given that many promising railway projects have been shut down by the Wisconsin government in the past.

In 2010, Governor Scott Walker shut down an $810 million dollar project funded by the federal government that would’ve connected Madison and Milwaukee. The project would have created thousands of jobs and could have been a major player in boosting Wisconsin’s economy. Walker, however, criticized the project as an economic “boondoggle” that was consistent with what he believed to be government overspending.

Also included in the presentation were some of the benefits of the TCMC rail to travelers, as well as community and economic development. The DoT said the TCMC “allows travelers to choose how they spend their travel time.”

In terms of community and economic development, the DoT mentioned that the TCMC would create jobs as well as support tourism and employment for local businesses in small communities.The numbers seem to back up the Wisconsin DoT’s claims as well. According to a report by the Rail Passengers Association, the average commuter spends 54 hours a year stuck in traffic. These delays could be hugely alleviated with the introduction of a passenger railway. Regarding the economic benefits of the project, the report also states that in 2017, the rail industry created 650,000 jobs and contributed $74.2 billion to the U.S. GDP.A 2017 report published by the American Public Transportation Association details the largest returns on investment in different categories after investing in high-speed and intercity rail projects.

On a national level, the largest “Travel Benefits” were in travel time, cost, reliability and consumer surplus from “induced new travel.” The broader societal benefits on a national level were in safety, reduction in CO2 and other pollutants, as well as a reduction in oil imports.

If the numbers hold up, the TCMC intercity rail project will reduce emissions, boost the economy and increase options for people traveling between cities in the Midwest. One aspect of the railway that can’t quite be measured, however, is how it will connect people and the ideas they bring with them.

One of Scott Walker’s tactics in winning the 2010 gubernatorial race was by fueling the urban versus rural divide of Wisconsin. Part of the reason Walker rejected the $810 million federal grant was because he believed the money could instead be allocated to fix “our roads and bridges.” By “our,” Scott Walker didn’t really mean Wisconsin’s entire population, but rather his own political base.

This “us vs. them” divide in Wisconsin is the main subject in “The Politics of Resentment,” a book written by University of Wisconsin professor Katherine Cramer. In an essay, she stated Wisconsin’s rural residents “felt that the important decisions that affected their lives were made in the cities and communicated out to them” and “felt disrespected that city folks did not understand their way of life, what they valued and the way they lived.”

Part of these feelings come from politicians like Walker using anti-urban sentiment to capitalize on economic hardships. These sentiments could in part be exacerbated by Wisconsin’s lack of connectedness, which could be fixed by the TCMC railway initiative.

A University of Warwick study explored how railways in Sweden in the 19th and 20th centuries impacted social movements. Researcher Eric Melander found that a key contribution of railways was reducing distances, therefore allowing individuals to travel and spread ideas.

The TCMC project has a shot at connecting a divided Wisconsin by connecting the ideas its travelers bring with them. If the railway sets a precedent for a larger intercity project in the future, it could aid in connecting the ideas of the entire nation.

Charlie Koepp ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying psychology.

https://badgerherald.com/opinion/2022/11/25/new-interstate-railway-has-potential-to-connect-divided-wisconsin/

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About the Contributor
Charlie K., Opinion Editor

Charlie is a senior at BASIS Independent Brooklyn with a love for football and basketball. Recently, he has shifted his interests to politics and journalism....

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Grizzly Alum: New interstate railway has potential to connect divided Wisconsin