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Construction of high-speed rail would mean construction of high-speed rail

Building a high-speed rail line means spending money and it also means creating jobs. But it also means, um, the construction of a high-speed rail line, a point so obvious that it seems lost in the heated debate over an aborted Milwaukee-to-Madison train line.

Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation decided not to follow through on their plan to give Wisconsin $810 million so the state could build a high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison. DOT’s about-face was due to incoming Gov. Scott Walker’s opposition to the rail project. The federal money will now go to states, like Illinois, that support the construction and operation of new rail lines. In response to Wisconsin’s lost opportunity at federal cash, WTAQ in Milwaukee reports that 100 people took to the bitterly cold Milwaukee streets yesterday to protest Walker’s opposition. They included Walker’s defeated Democratic foe in the governor’s race, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Barrett and other protesters focused on the loss of 4,700 construction jobs that could have come with building the rail line. Also, train maker Talgo is expected to leave its Milwaukee headquarters and set up shop in a nearby state that won federal rail funding. For his part, Walker has focused on the $7.5 million in annual operating costs that Wisconsin taxpayers would have to spend.

But the slam dunk argument for rail proponents should be how great it would be to finally have a train connecting Wisconsin’s only two big cities. (For our D.C. readers, the lack of a train connecting Madison and Milwaukee is akin to no train linking Washington to Baltimore.) Yesterday, I blogged about how it’s OK for some stimulus measures just to temporarily create jobs with no long-term benefit. At the same time, here is a stimulus project with short-term benefits but also clear long-term benefits to Wisconsin’s economy. By making it something of a zero-sum argument between more taxpayer spending v. more short-term construction work, pro-train protesters are sell themselves and their project short.

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