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Public Transportation Tue Jul 28 2009
USA Today reports that a group of governors from around the Midwest met in Chicago today to create a group that will lobby for a unified high speed rail system across the region.
The group's participants, the governors from Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio (6 Democrats and 2 Republicans - but hey, who's counting?) are all from states hit hard by the shuttering of the once-massive US manufacturing sector. The Rust Belt, as some suggest, could benefit from encouraged mobility and possible job growth. (Is it just me, or does every single project announced in the Midwest these days seem to include the words "job growth"? I'll believe it when I see it.)
Of course, conservatives are criticizing the cost. The article quotes John Tillman from the Illinois Policy Institute, who says, "They don't want the price tag out there when everyone's talking fiscal restraint." Yeah, fiscal restraint. How come I don't hear all these libertarians calling to cut back on highway spending? According to IDOT's own 2007 Fiscal Year report, Illinois spent over $5.3 billion on Blago's "Congestion-Relief Program" - also known as Open Road Tolling.
And yet every time someone suggests that we fund transit at an operational level, like the CTA, we hear no end to the demagoguery. Or when an opportunity develops to invest in fast, modern, environmentally-friendly travel options for our region - we hear the same, tired arguments over and over.
Hopefully, our willfully incapable two party system will actually do something the Midwest desperately needs - lead. After all, Chicago may be the biggest city on the "third coast", but as Detroit's meltdown shows, it's not the only dog in the neighborhood. We should encourage more cross-pollination of ideas, resources, and economies with surrounding communities to foster a more robust industrial heartland once again.