The Wisconsin Department of Transportation rolled out the red carpet Tuesday evening in Madison for a high-speed rail public information meeting.
But at least one Madison-area resident felt he was being rolled under the carpet.
“I want to support high-speed rail, I really do,” said Paul Johnston, a suburban Madison resident. “I do some work in Milwaukee and this sounds like it’d be a perfect way to get there. But I just can’t get around the cost — both to taxpayers and the actual cost to get to Milwaukee versus driving.”
Wisconsin Public Research Interest Group State Director Bruce Speight has heard that argument before.
“People say the major drawbacks (of high-speed rail are) a waste of money and taxpayers are stuck with the bill,” Speight said. “But there is ongoing maintenance with any infrastructure project.
“Some people call it a boondoggle,” Speight added. “But we’re interested in getting taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck, and this is a project that will solve our transportation problems and create jobs in this economy.”
The state received $46.5 million from the overall $810 in federal stimulus money largely paying for the project on July 29. Gov. Jim Doyle has said 5,500 state jobs would be connected to developing and installing the rail line. Speight, on Tuesday, said $300 million in contracts would be delivered by the end of the year.
“High-speed rail will create jobs, reduce our dependence on oil and help our economy, as well as give consumers more options,” said Speight, whose WISPIRG group is an advocate for public interest. “This is about connecting two major economic centers.”
WisDOT unveiled its plan for a Madison station during Tuesday’s public information meeting. The station will be at the State of Wisconsin Administration Building at 101 E. Wilson St.
Based on public input from workshops in June and July, WisDOT decided on a downtown location versus a station on east side of Madison. The “preferred alternative” to come from those workshops calls for a center platform flanked by one track on each side. The cost to build the station is $11.5 million to $12.5 million, according to WisDOT.
State and local officials are still negotiating a cost-sharing arrangement for the station. WisDOT spokesman Paul Trombino said the state would own and operate the station.
The boarding platform will be 700 to 800 feet and will be housed under the adjacent Monona Terrace parking structure.
According to WisDOT, corridor construction of the rail line between Madison and Milwaukee will begin in November. Final design of stations and preliminary station construction will begin in mid-2011, with Madison station construction breaking ground in January 2012. Rail service is expected to begin in early 2013.
“We’re modernizing our transportation system,” Speight said. “We’re moving into the 21st century. It’s the right thing for the state.”
That viewpoint is lost on Johnston.
“I’ve heard all the pros and some of the cons,” said Johnston, 54. “It will take me a little over an hour to drive to Milwaukee and cost me about $15 in gas. How much will it cost on the train?”