High Speed Rail: Monona Terrace? Eh…

Apologies for the obscene spacing between posts recently.  I will have a comprehensive wrap-up of 16th Session of ASM as well as a  run-down of what has been happening in the first week of 17th Session sometime in the next few days (it’s just finals to study for right?).

So the Twitter-verse exploded around 11:30 or so today with news that Monona Terrace was chosen to be the location of Madison’s station in the new High Speed Rail network that will be linking the upper midwest.  The Terrace beat out other contenders Yahara Station, and Kohl Center Station for the governor’s announcement this morning.

Now, there is plenty of good to be said about the location.  It’s crazy close for students, and for everyone else in the downtown for that matter, it’s a picturesque and iconic facility already with existing rail lines underneath it, and it’s a block from the capital.  However, this post will focus more on the negatives of this selection and I will be ignoring entirely the debate over whether or not this whole project makes any fiscal sense (which is certainly an interesting debate).

  1. Economic Development – part of the reason for selecting either the airport or Yahara station was to push for economic development in the area.  Yahara station especially was lauded because it sits about a mile from the capital down the East Washington corridor, right smack dab in the center of where Madison is planning on pouring money into investing and rebuilding.  Plus there are mountains of research that show the success rail stations have in promoting economic development around them.  The Terrace is pretty much built up on all sides with pretty newish buildings already, so this point is completely wasted on the Terrace location.
  2. Part of longer term strategic thinking –  Yahara was at a great location to be a regional hub (perhaps via a Regional Transit Authority that was created last fall…) in a comprehensive commuter rail line.  Plans had been developed showing commuter rail coming in through the suburbs (Sun Prarie, etc.) connecting the regional high speed rail network, and then going through the downtown and campus (with stops at Monona Terrace, the Kohl Center, the UW hospital, and others farther out to Middleton).  This plan is pretty shot with the Terrace location because there is not enough existing space to allow for a commuter rail line and the high speed one at the same time.  It’s still possible for it to work out, but much more unlikely and unweildy.
  3. Residents of Dane County at large- who wants to drive into Madison during rush hour to catch a train to Milwaukee?  You would spend more time in traffic than it would take to drive there.  The purpose of Yahara or the airport would be to mitigate that concern as they are not as cloistered in the downtown as the Terrace or the Kohl Center.  It would take MUCH less time to go to Yahara from the East Side than to the Terrace.  While granted that the same problem could be posed from the western suburbs, it would still be easy enough for those in Middleton to take the wider loop around Mendota than to go downtown. 
  4. Viability – I had concerns already that this project would not be very economically beneficial (trains are expensive…) but by placing it the downtown, off the main track, it ensures more time delays.  The train essentially has to back into the station now from the proposed Yahara Station site.  This additional delay will add even more time onto the trip, making the difference between convential transit very minor. 

These are the few big ones I could think of in the ten minutes of writing this, and I hope it makes sense.  I still feel that Yahara would have been the better choice but if we have to have a train station and Yahara couldn’t be it, Monona Terrace was my second choice.

-AMJ

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