Friday, January 29, 2010

Saved or created: one consultant 

The local newspaper tells us it's raining trains.
Plans to bring high-speed rail to Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin got a major boost Thursday from President Barack Obama administration�s commitment of $823 million to get projects rolling.

The money comes from $8 billion set aside from the economic stimulus package passed last year to develop the nation�s first intercity high-speed rail service, a top priority for Obama.

Obama announced the funding during an appearance with Vice President Joe Biden in Tampa, Fla. A high-speed rail project linking Tampa and Orlando was awarded $1.25 billion.

In all, 13 rail corridors involving 31 states will receive funding.
Hot damn! Choo-Choo Jim must have come through for us. And $823 million sounds like a lot of money. Except that ... it's not for us, exactly.
Of the funding announced Thursday, $810 million is planned to go toward building rail service between Madison and Milwaukee, and $12 million is designated for the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor.

An additional $1 million is planned to go toward developing the Madison-Twin Cities line.
$1 million for the home state? Really? This has transportation advocates fuming, it seems. Noted progressive activist Dave Mindeman is steamed:
$1 milllion for a study? That's like saying..."thanks for trying, we'll put you on our mailing list."
You don't even build anything with that $1 million. It's for a study, which would do what? Let's ask Assistant Choo-Choo guy Tim Walz:
"I have always advocated for a data driven process to determine the route for high-speed rail that's in Minnesota's long term best interests," Congressman Tim Walz, vice chair of the House Transportation Committees Subcommittee on Pipelines, Railroads and Hazardous Materials said in a press release. "This funding will be used to study possible routes that Minnesota outlined in its recent Statewide Rail Plan - including the River Route and the Rochester Route and put Minnesota in the running for future rail construction funding that will create jobs across our state."
The rest of Bob Collins' reporting describes the back story -- infighting between the Rochester/Mayo coalition that wants the train to go through Rochester that requires more track to be laid down. There is an existing line through Winona that takes you up the river directly to the Twin Cities; going by Rochester compels you to continue on to Owatonna before you can pick up a line to St. Paul unless you lay all new track. (I base that on this map of Minnesota rail lines.) The million dollars basically buys a consultant to write a report while the two sides in this battle continue their argument.

I wonder what the conversations between Oberstar and Walz are like?

UPDATE: How could I have forgotten? Stephen Karlson has a view from the other terminus.

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