Some interesting news today out of Chicago: a consortium of eight Midwestern governors has signed on to a plan to build a sprawling high-speed rail network, which would connect a dozen metropolitan areas. The Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, as the gathering was informally known, is timed to take advantage of a newly available $8 billion in federal stimulus cash.
If successful, the hub of the rail network would be based in Chicago, with lines connecting to cities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. As the Associated Press points out, the skeleton of this plan was already in place – state leaders have extolled the importance of reducing road congestion and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Now it appears the plan is actually going forward.
Will it work?
Maybe. But it won't be easy. California, for instance, appeared a sure-fire bet for a high-speed rail system. The state has an eco-friendly population, and suffers from serious pollution. But earlier this month, as a long-simmering budget crisis exploded into a full-blown emergency, and the proposed network was suddenly met with fierce opposition. Some residents were worried that the rail lines would adversely impact local businesses; others lamented that the money wouldn't be there by the time the whole deal was done.
Already in Chicago there is concern that the governors have not been clear about how the money will be allocated.
"They don't want the price tag out there when everyone's talking fiscal restraint," John Tillman, head of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute," told the Associated Press. "After costs of construction, Tillman said, operating expenses could soar into the billions of dollars over several years."