Rail Coalition says West Central Wisconsin Should be part of Planned Wisconsin High-Speed Rail Network - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Rail Coalition says West Central Wisconsin Should be part of Planned Wisconsin High-Speed Rail Network

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Eau Claire (News Release) - With the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in Eau Claire today to receive public comment on its "Connections 2030" long-range transportation plan, the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition is seeking changes to the plan that would include the region in WisDOT's plans for a high speed rail network.

Members of the coalition applaud much of the philosophy of the draft Connections 2030 plan, which includes a major state policy goal to provide Wisconsin citizens with more transportation choice by improving passenger train service and other non-automobile travel options. In the draft plan, WisDOT says it "envisions a 21st century intercity passenger rail system that links the Midwest region's major economic centers." 

Unfortunately, West Central Wisconsin is not included in that network, which would be built in three phases with routes serving Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison-La Crosse-St. Paul and Milwaukee-Green Bay. The plan only promises to "consider" service to area once the entire network is completed more than a decade from now.

The Coalition points out that West Central Wisconsin - which encompasses the Chippewa Valley and St. Croix Valley areas from Eau Claire/Chippewa Falls through Menomonie and Hudson/River Falls - is one of the fastest growing population areas in the state, growth that could be stunted if the area is left out of the network.

"This could be dangerous to our economic future and quality of life," asserts Rail Coalition Co-Chair Scott Rogers of Eau Claire. "While this report acknowledges emerging national trends towards availability of more transportation alternatives like high speed rail, and commits state resources to planning and developing them, it leaves our area high-and-dry, dependent only on the automobile for the foreseeable future."  

Furthermore, the Coalition notes, it agrees with the DOT plan's recognition of the need to provide "transportation choices for those who cannot or choose not to drive," with the population of citizens over 65 years of age projected to increase 90 percent by 2030. "Those concerns apply to our area, too," says Rogers, "and they won't be addressed unless we're on the map."

The state's own studies already point to the feasibility of rail service to the region. Scenarios examined by WisDOT in a study it commissioned included an Eau Claire-Hudson-St. Paul Route (known as "Eau Claire West") or implementing the Madison-St. Paul route with its frequent trains alternating on routes via La Crosse and Eau Claire/Hudson ("Eau Claire plus La Crosse"). According to WisDOT, "in both cases... analysis showed that implementing intercity passenger rail service to Eau Claire and West Central Wisconsin would improve the overall financial performance" of the system.

To address concerns about the draft, the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition is asking WisDOT to make the following changes to Chapter 8 of the Connections 2030 Plan:

  • Formally adopt the "Eau Claire plus La Crosse" scenario as the state's official plan for the portion of the rail network between Madison and St. Paul. When fully completed, this would provide frequent passenger trains operating between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and St. Paul. Half of the trains would use the current Amtrak route via La Crosse and Winona, MN; and the other half the Chippewa/St. Croix route via Black River Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie and Hudson.
  • Undertake engineering, environmental and other planning activities for the route via Eau Claire/Hudson simultaneously with the La Crosse route to ensure it is a "ready to go" transportation project.
  • Implement the Eau Claire-Hudson-St. Paul "Eau Claire West" alternative as soon as possible as part of Phase II of the network's implementation. This would implement a scenario outlined in the DOT's consultant study making it an extension of the initial Madison-La Crosse-St. Paul route. In completing these plans, WisDOT and Minnesota should consider additional stops for some of the rush hour frequencies (such as Baldwin, Roberts and communities in Washington County Minnesota) to provide an initial commuter rail function.
  • Move up planned studies of commuter rail service between Eau Claire, Hudson and St. Paul by examining the cost savings in doing so simultaneously with implementation of high speed rail.
  • Study the feasibility of a cross-state route between Green Bay/Fox Cities, Central Wisconsin, Chippewa Falls/Eau Claire and St. Paul. This route would utilize existing freight tracks on the Canadian National and Union Pacific railroads from Neenah to Waupaca, Stevens Point, Marshfield and Chippewa Falls to Eau Claire. This potential route would connect between the Eau Claire West and Milwaukee-Green Bay lines, providing service to the other major area of the state - Central Wisconsin - left out of the proposed rail network.

The Coalition is encouraging others in the area to submit comments to WisDOT supporting these changes. WisDOT is accepting public feedback through February 27. For more information on Connections 2030, go to the Connections 2030 web site:  www.wiconnections2030.gov  or call 608.266.8108.

About the Coalition: "The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition provides leadership and coordination to develop passenger rail service through west central Wisconsin as part of a regional strategy to ensure a balanced transportation system necessary for long-term sustainable economic growth."   The Coalition originated as a committee of what is currently the Momentum West economic development organization, and is made up of business and community leaders representing various organizations, individuals and government bodies.

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