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WisDOT unveils high-speed rail station plans for Madison

WisDOT has decided to locate a high-speed rail station at 101 E. Wilson St. in Madison. A 700- to 800-foot platform will be located under Monona Terrace. (Map courtesy of WisDOT)

WisDOT has decided to locate a high-speed rail station at 101 E. Wilson St. in Madison. A 700- to 800-foot platform will be located under Monona Terrace. (Map courtesy of WisDOT)

By Joe Yovino

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.”

VISIT THE DAILY REPORTER’S HIGH-SPEED RAIL PROJECT PROFILE PAGE

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?”

Volunteers with WISPIRG support high-speed rail outside the Administration Building in Madison on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

Volunteers with the Wisconsin Public Research Interest Group, a public interest group, support high-speed rail outside the State of Wisconsin Administration Building in Madison on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

5 comments

  1. “I just can’t get around the cost — both to taxpayers and the actual cost to get to Milwaukee versus driving.”

    But Milwaukee is just one of 1,000 rail destinations possible from Madison when the new service starts! 1,000! Madison will be connected to the entire national Amtrak system as well as Canada’s Via Rail network.

    The projected fares for the Madison-Milwaukee segment will be competitive with other modes of transportation, and Amtrak offers a variety of fare discounts and riders can earn points on each trip good for free trips in the future.

    The train offers drivers another competitive option when gas prices rise and when driving is undesirable or not possible due to weather, construction and congestion, And keep in mind there are those who don’t have cars to drive to — and beyond — Milwaukee.

    Mr. Johnston expresses concern about the costs to taxpayers for this transportation choice. Even if Mr. Johnston opts not to use the train, enough others will to justify this service and for taxpayers to find the return on investment more than worth it — for starters, increased mobility, area economic development, increased tourism, and added quality of life.

  2. Does anyone think of the cost to build and maintain highways between Milwaukee and Madison?!

    The Daily Reporter’s bias REALLY comes out in this article.

  3. “But there is ongoing maintenance with any infrastructure project.”

    —True. With highways, the cost is shared by thousands of drivers and with rail, the cost is shared by dozens of riders plus thousands of taxpayers.

    “Some people call it a boondoggle,”

    —True. Anybody who looks honestly at benefits and costs is going to come to that conclusion.

    “But we’re interested in getting taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck, ….”

    —Not true. The return on the investment will never pay off. No private investor would ever invest money in high speed rail. If there was any potential for getting bang for the buck, investors would be battling each other for the chance to build HSR.

    “…and this is a project that will solve our transportation problems….”

    —Poppycock! According to USDOT, intercity passenger rail represents 0.1 percent of total personal travel. Even if this massive investment of our grandchildren’s money would result in a TENFOLD increase in rail’s share (highly doubtful), it would still only be one percent. Ask any traffic engineer what effect that would have on highway traffic and the answer you will get is a resounding, “NONE!”

  4. “…this is a project that will solve our transportation problems and create jobs in this economy.”

    “High-speed rail will create jobs, reduce our dependence on oil and help our economy, ”

    ……..or not.

    I love how the supporters buy into the assumption of all the jobs and boost to the economy that will result from sorta-high speed rail.
    One should consider that it is more likely that the opposite will occur.

  5. “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?”

    $15 in gas money means Mr. Johnston is getting pretty good gas mileage on his car. I probably burn through $20 in mine. But even so, that’s not the cost of getting to Milwaukee and back.

    With the current IRS $.50 mileage rate, a round trip would be about $80. That’s a baseline figure that factors in the total cost of owning, operating and insuring an automobile.

    But that’s not a fair comparison. Most of us undergo the cost of owning and insuring that car whether we drive it to Milwaukee or leave it in the garage. If we estimate the incremental cost of operating that car (gas, tires, maintenance) at .25 or .30 a mile that drive to Milwaukee costs $40 to 48.

    Amtrak looks at markets when it prices fares, and it practices yield management just like the airlines. Currently, a Milwaukee-Chicago round trip is $44 for a distance similar to Madison-Milwaukee. That’s roughly in the ballpark of driving, if you’re alone in the car.

    There are other things to consider. Do you value your time? Driving time is wasted time; I could get two hours’ worth of billable work done on a train. That might not be such a big deal on the short skip to Milwaukee, but the difference is dramatic on a longer trip to Chicago or Twin Cities. (I can’t do that kind of thing on the Badger Bus–too crowded and bumpy.)

    Will High-Speed Rail stop me from making that drive? In most cases, no. There will be other circumstances that will often tip me toward the car. But I will appreciate having that option.

    It’s also time to move beyond one’s own self and think about others in your community. Do college students need to be burdened with a car just so they can go home for the weekend? Do you want my octogenerian mother on the Interstate when a trip to the grocery store is challenging enough? Can you imagine a time in your life where you’d like to travel 100-500 miles, too short for flying reasonably, but you can’t handle the task of driving anymore?

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