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:
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.