The federal government has handed Wisconsin an $810 million gift in the form of high speed intercity rail but some are trying to turn this into a partisan issue. Never mind that Republicans like Tommy Thompson paved the way for rail by allocating millions in state dollars as a match to federal funding or that they did all of the preliminary environmental work to make rail happen. Now that a Democrat is supporting rail, Republicans are against it. No wonder no one trusts a politician.
So jumping on the partisan bandwagon, Oconomowoc doesn’t want a train station. Even though in the late 1990’s, Republican Governor Tommy Thompson arranged to have rail service to Oconomowoc. That service was enormously popular A lot of people in Brookfield feel the same way, judging by the turnout at a recent meeting on the topic.
This whole drama reminds me of when I was living in Washington, D.C. in the 1970’s. At that time, transit advocates were pushing for a subway system in the nation’s capitol. The opponents railed against the rails, saying that is was boondoggle that would waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that no one would ride and would end up destroying neighborhoods. Like rail opponents in Wisconsin today – they wanted to send the millions of dollars back to Congress rather than see a subway system built.
The fashionable Georgetown neighborhood towed the line and took an Oconomowoc-like stance against the line. Not in our neighborhood roared above-average Georgetowners. Like Oconomowoc, Georgetown won the battle but lost the war.
Georgetown did not get a Metro stop but the Metro was built anyway. More than 30 years later we know that far from being a boondoggle that would destroy neighborhoods, the Metro system is one of the finest subways in the nation. Taking a look at real estate values today, it’s clear that Metro didn’t bring down neighborhood values – it increased them. The trendiest shops are no longer found in once-fashionable Georgetown. They are found closer to subway stops on Connecticut Avenue, Alexandria, Rockville and other subway stops.
And Georgetown? Today they are lobbying hard to get a subway stop in their neighborhood.
Oconomowoc and Brookfield would do well to heed the lessons of Georgetown. The real loser in the Great Oconomowoc Train Station showdown so far is Oconomowoc. Let’s hope that Brookfield residents are wiser.