Middleton seeks stimulus for uncertain project
Middleton is chasing $40 million in federal stimulus money for a transportation hub that might never be built.
“There are a lot of questions and not a lot of very good answers right now,” said Middleton Alderman Jon DiPiazza of the possibility of building the project near the Beltline Highway near Madison. “I have some concern that this is going to be a case of the tail wagging the dog.”
Yet DiPiazza was the only Middleton Common Council member to hesitate in the face of a Sept. 15 application deadline for U.S. Department of Transportation economic recovery grants.
The city has been working with Madison-based planners Vandewalle & Associates Inc. on the transportation hub project, which would serve as a parking garage, bus transfer station and potential commuter-rail stop if Dane County approves commuter rail and the regional transit authority that would support operations.
With the U.S. DOT offering $1.5 billion in grants through the federal stimulus program, Common Council members voted last month to seek $40 million for the project.
“Frankly, at this point, I think it’s a long shot,” said Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag. “But this is something we’ve been planning, and if we can get the money, I think we can get a lot more support for the project.”
He said if Middleton gets the stimulus money, the community could then put up $4 million in tax-incremental financing for the project.
But DiPiazza said the project is short on planning and long on reliance that Dane County will get the RTA and commuter rail.
The state budget, approved this summer, authorized Dane County to create an RTA, but Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said one will be created only if voters approve it. That vote might not happen until 2010.
The RTA has faced criticism for its ties to a commuter-rail line between Middleton and Sun Prairie. Several community leaders from outlying cities and villages said their taxpayers should not pay for a service they may never use.
With lingering doubts over the RTA and commuter rail, DiPiazza said, it is too soon to ask for money for a major transportation hub.
“If we don’t get the (federal grant), it’s a nonissue because this project goes nowhere,” he said. “But if we do get the funds, are we then forced to buy into the idea of a commuter-rail project simply to justify building this?”
Sonnentag said that would not be the case, and the transportation hub would provide parking space and a viable bus transfer point with or without the RTA or a train.
“I’m not even a proponent of light rail,” he said. “I don’t think we’re big enough to justify it. But you can get a lot more people in favor of an RTA with expanded bus service throughout the county.”
But a regional transportation hub without the promise of regional collaboration could be a problem for the city, DiPiazza said.
“I just feel our role in this right now is disproportionate,” he said. “It’s a respectable idea, but there really is no plan here.”