Competition grows for rail money
Madison’s mayor already has a plan to build a second station in his city if any money is left over from the high-speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison.
But if money is left over from the $810 million allotted for the project, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will not be the only one with opinions of how to use that money
“I’m sure there is a contingency — anyone looking at a project with this kind of budget builds in a contingency,” said Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman. “But that’s a contingency on what’s being proposed, not what other work somebody else might want to do.”
Watertown Mayor Ron Krueger, whose city is a proposed stop on the line, said it would cost more than $30 million to build a station in Watertown. He said WisDOT told the city only $5 million in stimulus money would be available to cover those costs.
“I haven’t heard anything different yet,” Krueger said. “Frankly, I think the cities that are going to be stops should know they’ll be made whole before Madison even looks at building another station.”
Cieslewicz said he plans to meet with Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials soon to discuss building a second high-speed rail station in Madison to complement a station initially proposed for the Dane County Regional Airport.
“We still have a lot to learn about what’s possible,” he said. “As I understand it, they’ve built a sizable contingency into this funding, about $150 million.
“In the past, the WisDOT representatives I’ve spoken to have been very open to the possibility of different stations.”
Chris Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, did not return calls for comment.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration also did not return calls for comment.
In submitting its federal stimulus money application for high-speed rail, Dane County proposed one station at the airport, said Scott McDonell, chairman of the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
“There’s going to be a station at the airport,” he said. “We agreed to it. That’s what was in the application. That’s what WisDOT planned for.”
But it still might be only the start of the debate if it turns out there only is enough money for one Madison station. Advocates of a stop closer to Madison’s downtown argue the station should be built near East Washington Avenue and First Street.
Troy Thiel, a Madison real estate agent and member of Campaign for Yahara Station, said it makes more sense to build the stop at that intersection. The projected rail route would take the Milwaukee-to-Madison train through that intersection, he said, and the area provides greater transit access and more vehicular traffic.
“It also provides the spark necessary for redevelopment on East Washington,” Thiel said. “Right now, the city’s plans for it lie there in stasis. You put a stop where people are, and it’s going to explode that corridor.”
Bauman said it would be a “monumental mistake” if Madison’s only station was at the airport.
“People want to get off the train and be able to walk to their destination or have reasonably affordable fast transit,” he said. “You drop people off at Dane County Regional Airport and there’s nothing to walk to and not even a direct bus line to the Capitol.”
Cieslewicz said he cannot choose between the two sites. He wants both.
Bauman said everyone along the line wants something. The Milwaukee area could use any extra money to eliminate grade crossings at intersections throughout Wauwatosa and instead run cars over or under the tracks, he said.
“There are a lot of things I can think of if there is more money out there,” Bauman said. “But I hope the good mayor is not thinking of using contingency money for a project beyond what’s planned for.”