The Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail line will split Waterloo in half, reducing property values and isolating residential neighborhoods, said a Waterloo alderwoman.
To offset the negatives, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation should spend more money on roads, bridges and aesthetics in Waterloo, said Alderwoman Laura Cotting. She suggested the state spend more than $10 million, a number based on improving five street crossings, building a new pedestrian bridge and adding decorative plantings, though she said it’s impossible to nail down an amount.
“It might be $20 million,” Cotting said. “It might be $5 million. That’s the problem when detailed engineering numbers aren’t available.”
WisDOT representatives were unavailable for comment.
The track on which the high-speed trains would ride cuts through the middle of Waterloo, with houses concentrated on the south side of the track and the city’s businesses and emergency response services to the north, Cotting said. The tracks now serve freight trains, but the frequency and speed of the new trains on the line will restrict cross traffic in Waterloo.
The environmental assessments for the Madison-to-Milwaukee line propose closing two of the five roads that cross the track in central Waterloo and building a fence on both sides of the track. The high-speed trains will not stop in Waterloo.
Cotting said closing Jackson and Jefferson streets, two main downtown thoroughfares, will make it more difficult for residents to get to the businesses north of the tracks, and for police and fire crews to get south of the tracks to respond to emergencies. She said she does not want any street closures, a sentiment echoed, to no avail, by members of the community in 2004 when the state was engineering the project.
“The southern half of Waterloo will become the wrong side of the tracks,” Cotting said. “It won’t have any of the amenities.”
John DeWitt, who is developing a subdivision on the south side of the tracks in Waterloo, said he does not expect the project to create problems for his development. He also is developing a 300-lot property in Watertown south of a proposed high-speed rail station.
“Looking down the line,” he said, “there are so many different views on whether high-speed rail is good at all, and, to an extent, I think it’s hard to say.”
The environmental assessment for the Madison-to-Milwaukee line includes plans to close nine public streets that cross the tracks. Waterloo is unique among the communities because the track slices through the center of the city, and it will not have a station.
The state’s rail project plan for Waterloo includes construction of two pedestrian bridges to better link north and south. But Cotting said the city should get more from the state as compensation for the lost thoroughfares.
“Otherwise,” she said, “we get into the very, very sticky business of property owners saying, ‘We want to be reimbursed for the devaluation of our property.’”
Cotting said she wants the City Council to develop a formal request for rail-related projects, send the request to WisDOT and then pressure the state to make sure the projects get done.
“Step No. 1 is to admit that the current plan is not acceptable,” she said. “Step No. 2 is to come up with a plan that is acceptable for the city.”