Friday, April 22, 2011

High Speed Rail to . . . Iowa?

Most of us are aware of the proposed high speed rail that would run from the Twin Cities through Wisconsin (potentially both Madison and Milwaukee) all the way to Chicago. In 5 hours time, this beats waiting through security at the airport and that darned sinus pressure! However, a series of hurdles have come up that could potentially derail the project. Namely, high speed rail costs a lot of money.

The Federal government has shown interest in footing a good chunk of the bill but money still has to be matched by states; a difficult feat in these budget-balancing times. Also, coordinating jurisdictions within a single state is challenging enough - but this particular line is dealing with three states and all their associated jurisdictions. And did I mention that trains are political?

As promised, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin crushed high speed rail in the Diary State by telling the Feds, thanks but no thanks. That’s right, Wisconsin gave back over $800 million. So, how does Minnesota and Illinois feel about this? The Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission is still going forward full steam ahead. [See video:] And Dayton agreed the project could still be viable, either through Wisconsin or by an alternative route, including one that goes through Rochester or points south in Iowa.[1]

Then Ohio and Florida followed Wisconsin and gave back their money. Governor Mark Dayton initially thought that Florida’s loss could be Minnesota’s gain. “Dayton, in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA), said that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s apparent decision to reject federal funds for a proposed Orlando-to-Tampa rail project makes the money available for other states.”[2]

However, to prevent the Federal government shut-down $2.9 billion set aside for high-speed rail – including what Florida gave back – was cut from the budget for the fiscal year. “That throws further into doubt the money for which Minnesota was applying after Florida rejected a similar amount of high-speed funds.”[3]

Now, at a local level “state rail officials said the [Republicans’] move to pull back funds could cripple several projects, including the high-speed line from Chicago. Dave Christianson, a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) official, said the project is relying on part of the [state] bonding money to help match $600,000 in federal funds for planning. ‘We would have to back off on that because we couldn't finish paying the consultants,’ he said.”[4]

Admittedly high speed rail is a long-term project, but the inability to secure funding and commitment upfront is concerning at the very least.

You can follow progress on the high speed rail efforts at the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission’s website:


1 comment:

  1. Hmm... this post is very interesting! Multi-jurisdictional transportation infrastructure is always frustrating (just ask the the folks over at Bay Area Rapid Transit), but it's especially disappointing to see elected officials turn down federal funds (before those funds evaporate in a budget meltdown) for rail. Maybe it's just politically "cheaper" for Wisconsin and Florida to follow Minnesota's lead?