Off the Rails: GOP Opens Reign By Killing Jobs

  • Published on November 5th, 2010

Hard on the heels of their election victories, new-minted Republican governors in two midwestern states are making good on campaign pledges to shut down railroad projects, turning down Federal dollars and slashing jobs.

In Ohio, Governor-elect Kasich said Thursday “That train is dead,” at the same press briefing where he said his top priority was creating jobs. He was referring to a rail-line upgrade in the “3-C Corridor”, connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, a $400 million stimulus package.

In response, a spokesperson for outgoing Democratic Governor Ted Strickland said, “The governor fears that if we do not take advantage of this opportunity Ohio will become an island, disconnected from the rest of the country. Governor Strickland will not return the $400 million for rail on his watch. If Governor-Elect Kasich wants to return the $400 million for the rail startup and send 16,000 jobs to another state, that will be his decision to make when he becomes governor.”

“Based on ridership, the 3C ‘Quick Start’ service would rank as the nation’s 12th largest generator of passenger rail traffic in its inaugural year,” noted ODOT Director Jolene M. Molitoris.

The press release from Gov. Strickland’s office announcing the project further noted:

The $400 million stimulus investment in the 3C “Quick Start” is expected to result in at least 255 immediate construction jobs over a two year period. According to job-creation formulas by the U.S. Department of Commerce, this investment in Ohio will generate at least 8,000 spin-off jobs and could add at least $1.2 billion to Ohio’s economy.

Ideology over job creation

Last month, it was New Jersey’s new Republican governor, Chris Christy, who pulled the plug on a 20-years-in-the-making rail project, a tunnel under the Hudson River that would have doubled the commuter rail capacity between New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Governor-elect Scott Walker will make good on his campaign pledge to shut down the high-speed rail line from Madison to Milwaukee, an $810 million project funded with stimulus dollars. 300 workers on the project were sent home on Thursday.

The rail line started life as a Republican project, initiated when Tommy Thompson was Governor in 1993. It took 17 years of planning, only to be killed now in the ideological firestorm brought on by the past year of tea-partyage. Walker had been the Milwaukee County Executive, and opposing the train was a centerpiece of his campaign for Governor. He says he wants to use the money for highway repairs instead.

It may not be dead yet, though  – Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said Thursday he still hopes the project can be saved. He said the line would not only create jobs but also help fuel downtown redevelopment.

“Gov.-elect Walker has talked about jobs and economic development as his primary focus. I applaud that. That’s absolutely right and he should be saying that. This is an opportunity to create jobs right away and it will benefit the whole state,” Cieslewicz said.

The Cap Times, in an editorial, called on Walker to get with the 21st Century.

Developing a high-speed rail system is essential to Wisconsin’s economic future. Failure to do so will leave the state behind as the national transportation infrastructure of the 21st century is developed.

This point is beyond debate, at least among Wisconsinites who actually pay attention not just to transportation debates but to every serious discussion about economic development.

“What I wanted to do is just take a moment, consider this and what it could mean to the state if we move forward, (and) understand what it’ll mean if we turn the money back, and give us an opportunity to make our case,” Cieslewicz said.

The past, or the future?

Rail ridership is up, so it’s a strange time to be killing growth.

In California, incoming Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is 100% behind a high-speed rail line planned for that state. And in New York, they’re trying to figure out a way to keep the tunnel alive – possibly by cutting Christy and New Jersey out of the loop and going ahead with the project on their own.

And China – remember China? Used to be a basket case and technological backwater? – China has just inaugurated the world’s fastest rail-line. Not in the planning stages – up and running.

(Trainwreck photo via mpurcell under a creative commons license)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.

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