Midterms bring new leadership to Midwest capitols

November 15, 2018

Governors play a critical role in implementing passenger rail projects, shepherding them through the perilous journey from idea to reality. This year’s midterm elections will bring several new governors to the Midwest. These new leaders could be allies in our fight for fast, frequent and reliable trains.

Voters in Illinois chose J.B. Pritzker, who is expected to clear a years-long logjam in state government. An extended budget standoff put many things in Illinois on pause, including reviving the Black Hawk service to Rockford and Dubuque, restarting service to the Quad Cities, and fully implementing 110 mph service on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

With the change in leadership, Illinois is expected to pass a large transportation spending bill, perhaps very soon. The next few months will be a critical time to present our Illinois Fast Track Initiative to legislators and the governor, including starting CrossRail Chicago and crafting a statewide rail plan. A Midwest network of fast, frequent and reliable trains can’t happen without Illinois.

Voters in Wisconsin ousted Governor Scott Walker, who campaigned eight years ago with the promise of cancelling the Madison extension of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service. He pledged to use the passenger rail grant money on highway projects instead, but the federal government balked and redirected the $810 million to other passenger rail projects around the country.

Governor-elect Tony Evers’ plan for Wisconsin includes investing more in public transit. Advocates and state planners have a number of projects on the table, including resuming the Hiawatha extension to Madison, adding more frequencies to the existing Hiawatha service, and adding a second daily train on the Empire Builder route between Chicago and Minneapolis. We look forward to working with the Evers administration to ensure these projects are priorities.

Michigan elected Gretchen Whitmer as their next governor. She campaigned with the slogan “fix the damn roads.” We’ll have to work to ensure that this was just shorthand for “invest in all types of transportation, especially trains.” Michigan needs to push for action on the stalled South-of-the-Lake Reroute study, which identified a dedicated right-of-way into Chicago for passenger trains from the east. Dedicated tracks through Indiana and Illinois would greatly improve the reliability of trains to Michigan and make it easier to add more frequencies to the popular Wolverine, Blue Water and Pere Marquette routes.

On the other side of the nation, Gavin Newsom will be the next governor of California. He has pledged his support for California’s critical high-speed line. Voters in the state’s Central Valley chose not to re-elect U.S. representative Jeff Denham, who led high-speed rail opposition in Congress. Denham was also chair of the House Subcommittee on Railroads. New leadership of that subcommittee could be very helpful.

With new opportunities to work with elected officials, it’s more important than ever that we keep our community strong.

In early December, we will launch a special donor challenge to accelerate our momentum and amplify our impact to bring high-speed rail to the Midwest. More details to come!