Wisconsin will apply for the latest round of federal high-speed rail grants, but the state will face stiff competition.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in early March set a May 19 deadline for states to apply for the new round of high-speed rail grants. Wisconsin will apply for federal grants from that pool to pay for planning and engineering of a high-speed rail route between Madison and Minneapolis, said Christopher Klein, executive assistant to Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.
“We will apply for everything that’s available,” Klein said.
WisDOT planners want to be ready to begin engineering the route to Minneapolis once construction of the Madison-to-Milwaukee line is complete, Klein said. The Madison-to-Milwaukee project is scheduled for completion in early 2013. The project is part of an envisioned high-speed rail line connecting Chicago and Minneapolis.
Klein said the ability to shift immediately between projects depends on getting the money. The federal grant money available now includes more than $50 million for planning new routes.
States applied for more than $55 billion when the U.S. Department of Transportation accepted applications for the $8 billion in high-speed grants included in the stimulus package. Wisconsin should expect a crowded field to compete for the new round of grants, said Marc Magliari, Amtrak media relations manager.
States such as Illinois and Michigan that did not receive everything they requested could be back in the hunt, he said.
“The $8 billion was oversubscribed by a huge factor,” he said, “and some of those states whose applications weren’t accepted are working to improve those applications and reapply.”
In January, Wisconsin received $823 million in stimulus money to build high-speed rail service. The grants include money to begin planning for the Madison-to-Minneapolis line, Klein said.
“That’s the start of the process, the start of the data collection,” he said, “but a full engineering study will need to be done.”
Representatives from Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration visited Milwaukee on Thursday to talk about the track improvements the state will build with those grants. After the meeting, Joseph Szabo, Federal Railroad Administration administrator, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle stressed the importance of extending the Madison-to-Milwaukee route on to Minneapolis.
“This is a market that needs to be served,” Szabo said of the track between Chicago and Minneapolis. “It has tremendous potential.”