Opinion

Civil Discourse: High Speed Rail Would Have Been Better Bet Than Foxconn

Wisconsin turned down more than $800 million in federal stimulus money in 2010 that would have created high-speed rail corridors between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. Turning down that money will cost Wisconsin far more than it will ever gain from Foxconn.

Former Governor Scott Walker made high-speed rail a loser and Foxconn a winner. He promised more than $3 billion in subsidies to Foxconn in return for a commitment to invest $10 billion and create up to 13,000 jobs in southeast Wisconsin.

Today Foxconn has a record of missed construction dates, missed employment levels and a missed product mix. In fact, the first production looks like it will be coffee machine robots rather than high-tech screens, as promised. So much for Foxconn and legislators who were led along a route of job-creation fantasy.

Southeast Wisconsin could have been boosted by the economic development that fills in high-speed rail corridors all over the world if the federal stimulus money had not been rejected. And misguided political leaders not only took a pass on federal stimulus money, they also failed to comply with a contract with Talgo, the Spanish train manufacturer. Talgo created jobs in a poor part of Milwaukee and could have been a major employer for years. The company had contracts to build two trains for Amtrak and additional trains for a proposed Madison to Milwaukee line when Wisconsin pulled the plug. Walker and Republican legislators lost a lawsuit for failure to honor the Talgo contract. It cost taxpayers $10 million.

And Wisconsin lost much more in economic development that could have occurred but will not. Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, writes frequently about the fill-in factor. He demonstrates the increase in employment, home values and additional economic development that “fills in” along high-speed rail corridors.

But that will not happen in Wisconsin where Walker and Republican legislators put their money on Foxconn instead.

Today you can take a high-speed train the 350 miles from Rome to Milan in about three hours. Free high-speed internet and speeds of up to 180 miles an hour mean Italian train travelers ride in comfort and efficiency.

What Wisconsin lost abounds along rail corridors throughout Italy. Hotels, resorts, and restaurants create jobs that follow rail passengers. In the small remote villages of Cinque Terre trains arrive every fifteen minutes. That’s job creation that will be far in excess of whatever Wisconsin will see from Foxconn.

Wisconsin would have been better off with high-speed rail than we ever will be with the Foxconn promises.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

 

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