Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that if Wisconsin does not use the $810 million in federal stimulus money to build a high-speed train system the money should be used to offset the federal deficit.
Meanwhile, representatives from Talgo Inc., the Spanish company that chose Milwaukee as its site in the U.S. for building and maintaining high-speed trains, said the company may be forced to shut down its Milwaukee operation if the high-speed rail project is killed.
“We were hoping to stay in Wisconsin and we were expecting our business to grow,” said Nora Friend, a Talgo spokeswoman. “But once the order for the Oregon trains are done, we would have to shut down the facility. I don’t think that’s what the new governor wants.”
The trains to fulfill an order from Oregon are to be completed by the spring of 2012. Talgo recently hired 40 workers and expects to eventually employ 125, she said.
Barrett, meanwhile, said he did not want to have the stimulus money committed to Wisconsin’s project go to another state.
“I do not want to see that money spent for high speed rail in Florida or Illinois,” said Barrett. “Florida got $2.3 billion for the high speed rail that will cost $3.7 billion. I am sure that they would be happy to get $810 million from us.”
The local Talgo operation is located at 3533 N. 27th St., an area hard-hit by unemployment. The city made a $3 million investment in attracting Talgo to the city.
“Talgo has concerns,” said Barrett, who added that he had talked to company officials since learning of the Department of Transportation’s decision to suspend the construction contracts that have been awarded.
WisDOT released a list of eight firms affected, including HNTB of Kansas City, Mo., which was hired to do preliminary engineering and final design track segment design. Edward Kraemer & Sons, Inc., which has a contract to do work on land bridges in Jefferson County, released a statement saying it would comply with the suspension.
“We look forward to working out any details with the current and new administration,” its chief operating officer Fred Lueck said.
Barrett, the Democratic candidate for governor defeated in Tuesday’s election by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican, said his comments were not political.
“I want to be clear that the election is over,” Barrett said. “But there are some real world ramifications to these actions.”
Walker has been steadfastly opposed to the high-speed rail system that was intended to connect Chicago to Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. Concerns were raised when contracts for the Wisconsin leg of the system were signed over the weekend.
“It is prudent at this time to pause,” said Barrett. “This has to be a transparent process.”
Barrett said the Milwaukee city attorney’s office was exploring whether the city has any recourse in recovering damages if the rail system is killed.
Chicago badly wants to connect to Minneapolis and Barrett said a nightmare scenario would be an attempt to bypass Wisconsin to do that, something he said is unlikely.
On Friday, U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, wrote a letter to Doyle and Walker after the decision to temporarily stop work on the high-speed rail project.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
Dear Governor Doyle and Governor-Elect Walker:
It is critical that Wisconsin continue work on the high-speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison that will eventually connect to the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Offering more options to connect people to their jobs is an economic win-win for our state. This is especially true for low-income people, many of whom have no viable transportation option and can’t get to where the jobs are. And as part of the vision of a nationwide high speed rail network, the economic benefits to our state will be plentiful.
In Milwaukee, Talgo will create jobs building cars for high speed rail. They will build cars for rail in Oregon, and they should be able to build rail cars to be used in Wisconsin as well. Stopping work on the project puts these jobs in great jeopardy.
This is about our future, not about our past.
We all share the same goal of creating good jobs for Wisconsinites. The election is over, and this shouldn’t be about politics. It should be about people and family-supporting jobs. Undoubtedly, building a high speed rail line creates jobs. And more jobs will come once it is operational.
Furthermore, the truth remains, if the funding isn’t used in Wisconsin for high-speed rail, the funding will not be used in Wisconsin at all. Sending this funding back is misguided and does nothing to help Wisconsin taxpayers. If anything, it sends their money away to build high-speed rail somewhere else.
As it stands today, Wisconsin gets less back from the Federal government than Wisconsinites pay in Federal taxes. Sending $810 million back to Washington only makes this worse.
Member of Congress