A call to build a high-speed rail station in Wauwatosa rather than in Waukesha County has left planners debating how local needs factor into interstate transit plans.
Joe Czarnezki, Milwaukee County clerk, said the state should eliminate the station proposed for Brookfield or Oconomowoc so one can be built near the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa. The switch would drum up ridership and help businesses around the research park, he said.
“It’s just an idea I thought I would float,” Czarnezki said, “because I think this is an important issue, and it deserves discussion.”
Czarnezki said he will ask members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and local delegates to the Wisconsin Legislature to consider the alternate location.
Milwaukee County supervisors Jim Schmitt and Michael Mayo said the Wauwatosa location warrants more study. Schmitt, a Milwaukee County Research Park Board member, said he has reservations about spending state and federal money on high-speed rail. But, he said, if it is going to be built, Wauwatosa is a good candidate for a station.
“If you really want people to ride this,” he said, “you have to go to where the action is, where the jobs are.”
Dan Ertl, Brookfield’s director of community development, warned that station planning must focus on how to serve interstate rail passengers rather than local commuters. The proposed $810 million high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison is part of a larger system intended to link Minneapolis to Chicago.
Even though the stations will become a center for local development, they must be considered in the big picture of how they link major cities in different states, he said.
Eliminating the Brookfield station to build one in Wauwatosa may move the stop too close to the Milwaukee station on St. Paul Avenue, Ertl said. A station’s ability to serve an interstate rail system is more important than new development in Brookfield or Wauwatosa, he said.
“The farther you go east, the closer you are to St. Paul and the station on St. Paul,” he said. “How much more productive would that be?”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is not adding more stations to the Madison-to-Milwaukee route, said Christopher Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi. Adding more stations is counter to the line’s intended purpose of being a high-speed connection between major cities, he said.
Klein said he does not know if the Federal Railroad Administration, which will pay for the high-speed rail, would consider changing station locations.
“We submitted our plan with the station locations to FRA,” Klein said, “and were awarded a grant based on those locations.”
Klein and Nancy Welch, Wauwatosa’s director of community development, said they are not familiar with any state studies of a potential station in Wauwatosa.
“It’s too late for new communities to make a bid for a station, said Bob Duffy, Oconomowoc director of economic development. Oconomowoc for 20 years has lobbied for a stop, he said, and will not give up the chance now.
“Twenty years ago, they should have been more proactive in trying to become a part of that,” he said.
Czarnezki said he does not want to close the station discussion. Although transportation planning is not in the regular job description of a county clerk, he said he has an interest in the subject from his former positions as a Wisconsin state representative and senator.
“Things can always change,” he said of the station plans. “There hasn’t been any construction started.”