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High-speed rail network requires networking among states

Taiwan, like Illinois, supports HSR

Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business predicts Illinois will get about $1 billion in additional high-speed rail money that Florida forfeited when their governor, Rick Scott, put the brakes on an Orlando to Tampa high-speed rail line. Under Gov. Pat Quinn and a Democratic legislature, Illinois has strongly supported Barack Obama’s high-speed rail ambitions. But the next steps are politically tricky.

Hinz writes that Illinois will get a “decent-sized piece” of high-speed rail money because, “This state, unlike others seems prepared to spend the money without dithering.” But Illinois must rely on the non-dithering of its neighbors. Of the Illinois Dept. of Transportation’s $1 billion application to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, $248.5 million goes to ongoing work on the Chicago to St. Louis rail line. This is a project administered almost entirely by one state (Illinois), and, not coincidentally, is one of the few national  high-speed rail projects to actually get started.

But the other $806 million is for a joint application with Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin to buy new train engines and cars. Yes, Wisconsin, the state where Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 million in federal money for rail between Milwaukee and Madison. Does this mean that the Badger State might be amenable to a Midwest high-speed rail network with Chicago as a hub? What about Michigan, with its Republican governor, Rick Snyder?

High-speed rail faces a dilemma. Like federal highways, high-speed rail lines are going to need the long-term, bipartisan cooperation of multiple states to impact the American economy and environment. For now, truly visionary ideas — like a rail line connecting Chicago to New York City — are a political non-starter, not so much because of inadequate funding, but the near impossibility of cooperation between multiple state governments. Illinois government’s enthusiasm for high-speed rail will partly be in vain if residents cannot use the transportation network to go somewhere besides St. Louis.

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