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Supporters of rail service met in Hudson last week

Western Wisconsin needs to step forward and make its case for having passenger rail service available to northwestern Wisconsin.

Those were the sentiments passed on to those attending a meeting sponsored by the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition in Hudson Friday, April 18, at St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

The keynote speaker was Randy Wade, passenger rail manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He said the key to developing rail service in western Wisconsin is federal funding. Most transportation projects are funded with an 80-20 split between federal and state governments.

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition is a voluntary group of citizens and community leaders working for the development of high-speed passenger rail service through West Central Wisconsin. Supporters of rail service hope to someday link western and central Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

"We want to make sure we are on the map. We can't afford to be left behind," said Scott Rogers, co-chairman of the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition.

Supporters said interest is growing locally, regionally and nationally for passenger rail service to reduce traffic congestion and reduce damaging emissions. Rail supporters point to a number of reasons that rail service will be not only convenient but necessary in the future. Among the arguments are:

  • Adding roads/lanes has zero long-term effect on congestion as all roads converge at existing destinations.
  • Spiraling fuel costs and increasing travel time are threatening Wisconsin's capacity to compete economically.
  • State has insufficient funds to support future highway maintenance programs.
  • Private auto traffic is expanding exponentially and will outstrip the state's ability to add capacity to I-94.
  • Economic regions with alternate and multiple means of travel will thrive and those without will not.
  • Traffic congestion and resulting economic decline of the region will accelerate the brain drain of technical and information workers from western Wisconsin.
  • Lack of mobility will increasingly remove West Central Wisconsin from the mainstream political and business activity of Wisconsin.
  • High-speed rail access will become as important in the 21st century as the interstate system was in the 20th to economic growth and sustained quality of life.
  • We need to seize the opportunities we have created with our western Wisconsin ingenuity and work ethic. Today we have more high-tech workers between Chicago and Minneapolis than in a similar distance between San Diego and the Silicon Valley.
  • We need to maintain the attractiveness and access to our Wisconsin universities in River Falls, Menomonie and Eau Claire to sustain their vitality as key educational and economic resources.
  • The elderly and those who do not drive need an attractive and efficient alternate means of travel.
  • West Central Wisconsin is one of the fastest growth regions in Wisconsin and projected to grow by another 25 percent in the next 25 years.
  • We need to reconnect West Central Wisconsin to our government seat in Madison and the future economic growth centers in southeastern Wisconsin and Chicago.

    Wade told the audience Friday that there is "reason for hope." He said a new president and legislature begins work in 2009, and one of the priority issues will be ground transportation and how it relates to economic development, the environment and national security.

    The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition was formed in 1999. In 2004 the city of Eau Claire Comprehensive Plan called for support of high-speed rail service linking Chicago and Minneapolis through Eau Claire and western Wisconsin.

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