If Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s goal for breaking ground on the proposed Monona Terrace high-speed rail depot is to be met, officials must avoid lengthy policy debates that have prolonged or threatened other projects, local contractors and others say.
Observers who have watched Madison government and advocacy groups grind projects such as the proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment nearly to a halt agree the depot could face a similar fate unless the city’s red tape is kept in check.
The proposed Edgewater project, for example, first went before the city’s Plan Commission last July and has been a topic of discussion at more than two dozen city government meetings. Most recently, the city’s Board of Estimates voted early Tuesday morning to approve $16 million in tax-incremental financing for the project.
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For the proposed depot, city and state officials are meeting to determine the project’s location and whether it will be free-standing or built into the side of the existing state building.
Until those details are ironed out, the timetable and scope of government reviews cannot be determined, the mayor said.
Cieslewicz responded to skeptics of his depot timetable by saying “the train (project) will run on time.”
“We’re absolutely committed that the depot will begin in a year and be done and ready for commuter rail 2013,” he said. “It’s not going to be bogged down in a lengthy city process.”
Brad Murphy, director of the city’s Planning Division, said most Madison projects, especially those associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, move quickly through the vetting process.
“About 95 percent of our projects do not run into obstacles, and most move through in a timely manner,” Murphy said.
The mayor’s timetable for the depot is ambitious, said Brad Binkowski of Urban Land Interests LLC, a real estate development firm based in Madison. “It would be unusual but possible” for city government to meet the mayor’s timeline, Binkowski said. “Past history shows it’s unlikely.”
Dick Wagner, a Dane County Regional Transit Authority member, said the city has a lot of commissions and committees that make demands on project developers who don’t always have immediate answers.
“I think the (Wisconsin) Department of Transportation will have the information ready and that will help it move quickly along,” Wagner, a former Dane County Board chairman, said. “There could be a lot of steps, but I don’t see it as a Madison-takes-forever project.”
Wagner said additional noise generated by adding high-speed passenger rail on tracks that now carry only freight could become an issue with owners of nearby condominiums.
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Some predict that the mayor and Gov. Jim Doyle, who announced the Monona Terrace location for the depot last week, said the two men will have to exercise their clout to keep the project on pace.
John Mielke, vice president of the Wisconsin Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., said if the Edgewater Hotel project “is a harbinger of how things could go, then Mayor Dave will have to step in” to move along depot approvals.
Alderman Mark Clear, Common Council president, tied the potential of delays to city involvement required for the project.
“I would be crazy if I didn’t say there was a lot out there that could slow this down,” Clear said, “but it’s got a lot of momentum and the governor could keep it moving quickly forward.”