Wisconsin received $822 million from the $8 billion the federal government awarded Thursday for rail projects, but transit supporters want more.
The state will use $810 million to build a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee, but that represents only the middle of a planned rail spur that eventually will stretch from Minneapolis to Chicago. Wisconsin also received $12 million to improve the tracks between Milwaukee and Chicago.
The biggest piece of the project, and one for which the state will need more money, is the line between Minneapolis and Madison.
“We’re looking at probably a good decade of good, good construction work that will go on,” Gov. Jim Doyle said Thursday about the entire Minneapolis-to-Chicago project.
Minnesota received $1 million Thursday to engineer the Minneapolis-to-Madison route.
“Now it’s just seeing if the federal government continues to try to fund these projects,” said Karl Ostby, whom Doyle appointed as a Wisconsin representative on the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission. “Someone has said our current administration has shown more interest in rail than any administration since (Abraham) Lincoln’s time.”
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, said the federal transportation reauthorization bill will include more money for rail, and she and other members of Congress are looking for new ways to pay for a nationwide project that Doyle and federal officials compared to construction of the interstate highway system.
“Transportation dollars are replenished by the gas tax and by other kinds of taxes,” Moore said. “We’re certainly looking at cap-and-trade and other types of emissions regulations as another revenue stream.”
Under cap-and-trade systems, companies and utilities that emit pollutants pay for the ability to emit beyond a limit set by the government.
The $8 billion in rail grants announced Thursday and the $2.5 billion for passenger rail in 2010 is great, said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. But the Midwest alone will need $15 billion a year to get a true high-speed rail system that matches those in other countries, he said.
Trains on the line between Milwaukee and Madison will travel a maximum of 110 mph, he said.
“They are not high-speed rail,” he said. “The Chinese just opened a new line that covers 664 miles in three hours.”
Harnish’s association is part of a coalition lobbying for $4 billion for rail projects in the 2011 federal budget. As for the gap between $4 billion and the $15 billion needed, he said, there is a difference between what people want and what they can get.
“Those kinds of questions are being answered about the entire transportation network,” Harnish said. “The highway program is bankrupt, and it’s a big decision we’ll have to make.”