By Scott Carlson
Special to The Daily Reporter
Milwaukee is on track with the remediation of an industrial site for a Spanish train manufacturer despite threats from gubernatorial candidates that they would kill the state’s high-speed rail project.
The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee on Tuesday reported Veit Environmental Inc., Milwaukee, was the apparent lowest of five bidders to take on brownfield remediation at the former Tower Automotive site. That work is part of a project that would let Talgo Inc. establish its high-speed train factory in Milwaukee.
Veit’s bid was $1.66 million, less than the city engineering department’s estimate of $2.4 million.
Redevelopment Authority spokesman Jeff Fleming said the Veit bid is under review to make sure it fully conforms with the agency’s request for proposals.
The remediation project will cover grading, excavation and preliminary rail work on what the city calls Area E, one of several parcels that is part of the 30-acre site near 28th and Townsend streets.
Altogether, Milwaukee has committed more than $16 million to buy, clean and redevelop the Tower Automotive site through tax-incremental financing. That includes $6 million to renovate a 300,000-square-foot building at the Tower Automotive site for Talgo.
This spring, Talgo America Inc. reported plans to operate its U.S. high-speed passenger rail manufacturing and assembly plant at the former Tower Automotive site, creating 125 direct jobs in Wisconsin and generating another 450 indirect jobs through vendors throughout the Midwest.
Talgo’s announcement came after Wisconsin reported in January it is getting $823 million in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build high-speed rail service to connect its centers of commerce. The money includes $810 million to build high-speed passenger rail service between Milwaukee and Madison.
Republican gubernatorial candidates Mark Neumann and Scott Walker have criticized using federal stimulus money for high-speed trains.
On his campaign website, Neumann said, if elected, he would stop the Milwaukee to Madison high-speed rail line “immediately — in its tracks.”
Walker said Tuesday he’s not opposed to Talgo coming to Milwaukee.
“If they can make a good operation here, that certainly would be fine,” he said.
However, Walker said, he is against using federal stimulus money to pay for high-speed transit because it would cost the state $10 million in annual operating costs, money Wisconsin doesn’t have with the current budget crisis.
“My suggestion is that we work with our congressional delegation and have them reprogram the $800 million and use it for other bridge and road projects,” Walker said.
But Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said Tuesday he’s not worried about the Republican candidates’ criticism and said they can’t derail the Talgo project.
“We have a lease with Talgo,” Bauman said. “Talgo is obligated to take the space and pay the rent.
“I don’t think the Republicans will interfere with that one iota.”
Bauman also said Talgo has purchase orders from Oregon and Wisconsin to build a combined four sets of trains. In February, the Oregon Department of Transportation reported it had negotiated to buy two new passenger trains from Talgo America for $36.6 million with the trains to be manufactured in the company’s future Milwaukee plant.
Meanwhile, Bauman said, he doesn’t think Wisconsin can or will back out on its more than $800 million in federal money for high-speed transit.
“If the Republicans want to throw that away, they can,” he said. “The next governor has two options: Let the project proceed or repay the federal government the $800 million for the project.
“Despite all this hyperbole and hysterical talk by these two candidates, this railroad is going to get built.”
Walker said it would take congressional approval to change the appropriation, but there is precedence for such reversal. He said that in the late 1990s the state got Congress to reallocate a $200 million appropriation in transportation-related projects.