Craig Thompson (above), secretary of the Wisconsin DOT, recently appeared on the “Local Gov Matters” podcast produced by the Wisconsin Counties Association to discuss the state’s ongoing investments in transportation, especially in support of passenger rail and port development.
[Above photo by the Wisconsin DOT]
Thompson – who also currently serves as vice president of the American Association of state Highway and Transportation Officials – noted that, every two years, Wisconsin’s governor and legislature set the state budget, which includes transportation funding for state and local roads, railroads, port investment, airports, and transit systems.
“Transportation is one of those areas where there is agreement in state government, for this is the third budget in a row where we’ve increased investment in transportation,” he explained on the podcast. “I think people grew tired of the disinvestment they’ve seen in our transportation infrastructure over the years and they voiced that opinion in recent elections. That’s why I think you’ve seen the [state] legislature work hand-in-hand with the governor to create a tremendous level of transportation investment coupled with a historically low level of bonding.”
On passenger rail front, Thompson noted that Wisconsin’s relationship with Amtrak – operating its Milwaukee to Chicago passenger rail line – has resulted in a passenger rail route with one of the highest levels of usage in Amtrak’s system, one with little need for supplemental funding from the federal government and one with excellent on-time performance, he stressed.
“That service provides seven round trips per day per day between Milwaukee and Chicago, and we’re looking to go to eight daily round trips soon and then possibly to 10 in the future – the demand is tremendous,” Thompson said. “We’ve also seen tremendous growth in the bus service from Green Bay area that connects with that [passenger rail route] as well. We are also looking at creating a new [passenger rail] route with Minnesota, linking the Twins Cities, Milwaukee, and Chicago.”
Thompson pointed out that “one things we don’t think about enough” in Wisconsin is the vital role ports play in the state’s economy.
“We are surrounded by the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River – those [water] routes are a tremendous part of our economy,” he said. “Back in 1970s, we started providing state funding to support our ports – and those grants generate a major return on investment from the economic growth encouraged by port activity – especially the export of agricultural goods. We are helping farmers across the entire state export grains to the entire world. And that again is in partnership with local governments – they run those ports.”
To listen to the entire podcast, click here.