Dashing our high-speed hopes
by Mike Paulus
Some very disappointing news on Wednesday. One of Eau Claire’s last hopes for being a stop on the forthcoming high-speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago has evaporated, as the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration as officially announced plans to build the new railway down the Mississippi river, passing through Winona in Minnesota and into Wisconsin by way of La Crosse. Then the line goes over to Tomah and down through Portage and Milwaukee before high-speeding it all the way to Chicago.
Officials from the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition have hoped the Federal Railroad Administration would at least consider using the Mississippi River route in addition to one that runs through Eau Claire, but that probably won’t happen in the foreseeable future. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says they selected the La Crosse route because it will make use of existing stretch of rail line, pass through more spots in Minnesota, offer a shorter travel time, and just cost less to get up and running.
The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition hasn’t given up, of course, and will continue to advocate for an additional route that passes through our area.
You know, in the past year or two, I’ve heard plenty of anti-rail people make comments along lines of “I can’t see myself ever using it.” And they’re just being honest – they like the idea of a high-speed rail, but don’t see it as practical. But there’s a problem in this line of thinking. The problem is that so many of us have never before lived on the cusp of a major shift in a basic infrastructure like transportation. This isn’t your everyday public works project. In the years to come, it will drastically redefine how we travel.
Would you and your family have used high-speed rail to get to Gradma’s house anytime soon, if ever? Nope. But as we transition away from petroleum-based transportation, your grandkids will most probably need it to visit you someday. And as of yesterday, northern Wisconsin is decades behind the curve. As my co-worker pointed out to me, this is akin to an interstate highway plan completely avoiding your town. It fundamentally alters what your community can or cannot be.