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Rail hits resistance in Waterloo

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

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.”

13 comments

  1. Why are the politiians not listening to their constituants !!!!!!! We pay their salaries !
    Within days of the announcement of this railway system; unknown cost overruns were discovered.
    Please, stop the project before more money; effort and time are wasted on a “WHITE ELEPHANT” no one will use.

  2. Thank you for the great article Sean. Additional concerns about this project include the fact that all the schools and most of the churches, as well as all the local ball diamonds and developed parks are on the north side of the tracks. This will affect kids getting to school and recreation safely. The one school on the south side of town is a parochial school, located on the edge of the rail corridor 400′ line.

  3. Is this a money-grab attempt, or a ploy to get the HSR trains to stop in Waterloo? Both ideas are unacceptible. Waterloo has been split by these tracks for about 150 years, and major developer John DeWitt says he isn’t worried about the closure of two streets there. This alderwoman is raising imagined hypotheses that no one else seems to have a problem with.

  4. Louis:
    You’re calling my constituents, including local business owners, “no one else”. You’re calling citizens that have raised these same concerns since the year 2000 “no one else”. It seems these people do not matter to you. They matter to me.

    Current Freight rail traffic through Waterloo = several times a week @ 5-10 mph. Railroad not fenced.
    HSR = 12-20 x/day @ 87 mph, corridor completely fenced by chain link, or so we’ve been told by the DOT plan.

    Raising Imagined hypotheses? Not me.

  5. When you have HSR-OCD “High Speed Rail Obsessive Compulsive Dissorder.” like Louis apparently has, it’s ALL an imagined hypothesis, especially the imagined ridership hypothesis. So in his imagined hypothesis of support for this boondoggle, there is no one else, and nothing else matters. Please don’t confuse him with reality.
    And no…we wouldn’t want any HSR trains to stop in ‘Waterloo’ unless it’s named Napolean.

  6. “Tea” is supposed to be sipped, not smoked, Captain Anonymous.
    I suggest that you get used to the reality that HSR is a done deal.

  7. Just because you think it’s a ‘done deal’, doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing.
    And ‘TEA’ stands for Taxed Enough Already, you know, the TEA Parties…you might have heard of us… a growing nation-wide grass-roots movement of average citizens who are sick of just this sort of ****, and are speaking out against runaway spending by a bloated out of touch government….then again, maybe we’re just another imagined hypothesis.
    Because I choose an anonymous nickname, does not diminish the facts of which I speak, but if it makes you feel better, my name is Jay Madison…and the fact is; this is a boondoggle. The fact is, it is not needed. The fact is, it will put the state transportation budget into unsustainable debt. The fact is, the ridership will not even come close to justifying this project. The fact is that the federal grant money is only ‘seed money’ to get it started, and the operation costs of this will strangle us. The fact is, this does not help our state, it hurts our state. Just as the attitude of “if we don’t take it someone else will” on a national level is self-serving and destructive. Government (at any level)can not ‘give’ what they must first take. Those are the facts…can you deal with those?
    If in fact it is a ‘done deal’ as you so desire, then it is indeed a sad day, and this unfortunate reality will be very costly for all of us to ‘get used to’.

  8. I don’t see facts, just opinions, and the mere expression of opinion doesn’t turn it into fact, namely the opinions above about unsustainability, need, ridership, “strangling”, hurt, and the ever-popular ‘boondoggle’.

    I won’t concern anyone here with my own opinions, but I do have one genuine fact to offer – the passenger counts on nearly every new American rail line since 1980 have well-exceeded early estimates.

  9. My family lives on the south side of Waterloo. Why couldn’t the train stop outside of town? This would be a convenient transportation hub for anyone in town AND slow the train down heading into and out of town. HSR is a fantastic idea, but only if it stops for people to get onto it. It’s rather close minded to think no one in between Milwaukee and Madison would ever want to use it. Solve two problems, have the train stop here, slow it down at the same time.

  10. Here’s another ‘genuine’ fact…whatever level of ‘success’ occurs with this…we cannot afford it.

  11. I draw your attention to the comment above, readers. After re-reading it several times, I can see no other meaning there than the writer of it will still be against this massive job-creating project regardless of whatever success it will bring.

    Or to paraphrase, he says “we cannot afford success” (!), and claimed that that is a ” ‘genuine’ fact “.

    At least the writer enclosed “genuine” in quotation marks.

  12. Louis, I could not agree with TEA, aka Jay Madison, more. Unless the cost of a ticket is substantially reduced, the Milwaukee to Madison HSR will fail and cost the taxpayers dearly. With an estimated one-way ticket price of $20 to $33, it is more cost-effective to drive a car between the two cities. Let’s not even get started on subsidies necessary to keep the line operational. It’s estimated that a $7.5 million subsidy will be needed in 2013, in addition to the $5.5 million subsidy Amtrak already receives.

    Yes, jobs will be created in the process. It sounds great in the short-term to project that roughly 5,000 people will be employed. However, of the jobs created, only 55 will be permanent. Sure doesn’t sound like it’s in the best interest of our state.

    TEA is correct in his analysis. The grant money awarded by the federal government only serves to put the country further into debt. The US is trillions of dollars into debt, but our elected officials keep spending just as fast as the money is printed.

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