High-speed rail heads to Madison’s Monona Terrace (UPDATE)
Support and questions mingled in the wake of Gov. Jim Doyle’s Thursday announcement that high-speed rail will stop at a station near Monona Terrace in Madison.
“We have to engage as a city on details such as how fast high speed is going to be in the city, what time it’s going to be running and where, exactly, it’s going to stop,” said Alderwoman Lauren Cnare.
Doyle said Madison’s station at the end of the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail line would be at Monona Terrace, ending months of speculation about the proposed stop.
In its application for federal stimulus money for the project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposed a station at the Dane County Regional Airport. City leaders earlier this year began lobbying the state for a site closer to downtown and pitched such possibilities as Monona Terrace, the Kohl Center and the Yahara Station on the city’s east side.
Doyle said a downtown Madison site would maximize ridership to and from the city and provide easy access to the Capitol, hotels and other businesses.
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz agreed the site was the best location for the city and could spur further development in the immediate downtown vicinity, including another hotel near Monona Terrace and a public market.
However, Cieslewicz said, WisDOT has not yet told the city exactly where the train will stop, the associated costs of the stop and rail upgrades, or when construction will begin.
“I think it’s fair to say they would break ground in about a year,” he said. “I don’t believe a consultant has been formally hired yet, and I know they’re working on a study and final paperwork that will probably still take several months to complete.”
The state is expected to complete an environmental impact statement on the Monona Terrace site, but WisDOT representatives were unavailable to comment on the study or what it would include.
According to a document provided by Doyle’s office, the rail upgrades for the Monona Terrace site will cost $18 million, and the station costs will be the same as if it were built at the airport. The document from Doyle’s office did not include an estimated cost for an airport station.
Alderman Larry Palm said he has mixed emotions about the site.
“There’s two ways for me to look at it,” he said. “For residents in my district, an airport or Yahara stop would have been easier, but a unified hub is also the best thing for the city.”
One big issue facing the city is the project’s use of existing freight rail lines. Wisconsin & Southern Railroad already proposed closing some crossings because it argues the city has too many, and Cieslewicz said high-speed rail could prompt more closings.
The city is fighting to keep open some of those crossings on the east isthmus to facilitate development of a central park.
Bill Barker, chairman of the Madison Central Park Design and Implementation Task Force, said the Monona Terrace proposal “came out of left field.”
“I thought the station was going to be at the airport,” he said.
Barker said he sent two e-mails to City Hall on Thursday with questions about how the Monona Terrace stop will affect the Central Park project.
The possibility of closing more crossings could pose a problem for Madison residents, Cnare said.
“We have to send a message to the state that this can’t cut off our grid pattern,” she said. “Don’t send us out of our way because we have people here that care about being able to cross the street just to see their neighbors or get coffee.”
Cieslewicz said all those issues will be tackled in due time.
“There are no red flags for me,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with the choice.”