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WisDOT suspends work on high-speed rail (UPDATE)

An Amtrak train rolls on the tracks in Milwaukee recently. Edward Kraemer & Sons, who was contracted to do work on land bridges for the high-speed rail project, has been told to halt its work. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

An Amtrak train rolls on the tracks in Milwaukee recently. Edward Kraemer & Sons, who was contracted to do work on land bridges for the high-speed rail project, has been told to halt its work. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Joe Lanane

Work on Wisconsin’s proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail line stopped just one day after Republican Scott Walker, an opponent of the project who has pledged to halt it, was elected the state’s next governor.

Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said Plain-based Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc. was told Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to stop work on three land bridges for the project in Jefferson County after getting the green light to begin work earlier that morning.

According to an e-mail Thursday attributed to WisDOT Secretary Frank J. Busalacchi, the shutdown is temporary.

“At the governor’s request, I have asked contractors and consultants working on the high speed rail project to temporarily interrupt their work for a few days,” according to the e-mail. “In light of the election results, our agency will be taking a few days to assess the real world consequences, including the immediate impacts to people and their livelihoods, if this project were to be stopped.”

WisDOT officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking additional comment.

Walker, who defeated train proponent Democrat Tom Barrett on Tuesday, called the whole thing a boondoggle that wasn’t worth the estimated $7.5 million a year the state was estimated to have to spend on operating costs.

“Since learning about the state’s agreement with the federal government we have been exploring all legal options to stop the train from moving forward, and we believe this is a step in the right direction,” Walker said in a statement Thursday. “We are continuing to work with members of Congress on redirecting this money to fixing our crumbing roads and bridges.”

According to a statement attributed to Fred Lueck, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Kraemer, “We’ve been made aware of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s decision to put the project on hold. We understand the department’s decision, and we will comply with it.

“As a company that prides itself in working cooperatively with the state, we look forward to working out any details with the current and new administration.”

The $28.45 million contract was awarded to Kraemer on Oct. 6, according to records.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, said the work stoppage is the first step to stopping the high-speed rail project from happening. And now that a Republican majority has been elected in the U.S. House, Vos said Congress is more likely to reprioritize the $810 million toward state transportation needs rather than distribute the money elsewhere.

“I don’t believe this idea we’re going to hand the money over to some other state,” Vos said. “My hope is we can take that money and utilize it to support real family-supporting jobs.”

Vos said he expects to be named co-chairman Monday for the state’s Joint Committee on Finance, which oversees Wisconsin’s budget process. It would put him in a valuable position, he said, to allot more money toward road and bridge repairs.

Gary Smith, president of C.D. Smith Construction Services Inc., Fond du Lac, said he does not believe a contract to build the train shed at the downtown Milwaukee Intermodal station would be affected by a decision to cancel any high-speed rail project.

“The train shed is being built to comply with federal and state laws,” Smith said. “It has nothing to do with high-speed rail. The train shed is needed as long as they have trains running to and from Chicago.”

Walker promised throughout his campaign that, if elected, he would stop the high-speed rail project. Gov. Jim Doyle signed agreements last weekend to commit all $810 million in federal stimulus money to be spent on the project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation referred questions to Doyle’s office, which did not immediately return phone calls.

Staff writers James Briggs, Marie Rohde and The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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  1. How could it just stop ?

    Ray Lahood said it was impossible to stop.

    Somebody better call Ray……..Oh Ray your choo choo has run out of steam before it left the shed.

  2. Obama, JIm Doyle (Humpty Dumpty) and LaHood, what a bunch of schmucks and dishonest dealers. All crooks that need to shut up and go away. Your train is dead.

  3. A ridiculous burden to be borne by the many to serve the few.
    Scrap it!

  4. Awesome. More Ignorant people that have no idea what they are talking about and just regurgitate what they hear on conservative talk radio.

    This project would easily be a money-maker when added tax revenue is brought into the equation. Unfortunately, some people *cough* ^^^^^^^^ *cough* are not intelligent enough to grasp the part this rail will play in recruiting new business and industry to Wisconsin (primarily for the freight improvements, but also the passenger component).

    $7.5 million is small potatoes… just like the people that can’t grasp the obvious benefits this train provides. But the rail would not line the pockets of the road lobby that financed Walker’s campaign, so it has to go. Instead, we get to build more bypasses that don’t serve any purpose or speed up travel (and we also get to maintain, plow, and police them as an added long term “benefit”).

    – A Person with a Picture of Reagan on His Mantle

  5. Will someone please tell me why the high speed rail wasn’t on the ballot for the citizens of Wisconsin to vote on whether it should be built or not? To me this is just as
    important as the referendums they had on the ballot. If Wisconsin residents are being taxed on something such as this why can’t we vote on it?
    In hind sight, I wish each community could stand outside the polling booths and have the voters sign a petition; for it…..or not. Anybody agree with me out there?

  6. @ Faye

    Wisconsin is not a referendum state, meaning we can’t vote for referendums on the ballots other then information gathering. Cities with over 250k populations, however, can like Milwaukee. Referendums don’t make law in Wisconsin, don’t believe me look it up.


  7. Faye,

    There was a referendum. A vote for Walker was a vote to kill the train (and more fiscal responsibility in general).

    Abe, people see the passenger train for what it is…a waste of money.

    How many additional freight trips would be added to Madison by 2030 if $810 million + $7.5 million a year is spent on this boondoggle? Per the grant application, ZERO. How is any revenue generated from that leg if no additional traffic will take place? Yes, Watertown is expected to see more freight and those tracks need to be upgraded. Simple, upgrade the section of track that will see the use. No addtional trains to buy or maintain.

    It’s time for this country to get it’s finances in order. Here here to all those that voted to move in that direction.

    On November 2nd a message was sent to Washington and Madison. It was much like the old Verison commercial: “Can you hear me now”.

    By the way, people are pretty tired of liberals calling them ignorant. Their arrogance will be their downfall.

  8. More misinformation from Irwin. Freight service would be improved and expanded… more companies will be using it when the system is improved and fuel prices continue to rise.

  9. Revenue will be generated by the economic development… building of factories and other development along the line (construction = taxes), additional payrolls (taxes), land valuation (taxes), etc.

    And the election of Scott Walker is NOT going to keep this $800 million from being spent. It is going to be spent on high-speed rail somewhere in this country. Do you really not grasp this?

    Call it arrogance if you want, but I’m the one that has to sit here and explain these simple concepts to you and yoru ilk OVER and OVER again.

  10. Abe,

    You type away, but provide no sources. At least I reference where the information comes from. Please direct me to the study that shows the lack of economic development between Milwaukee and Madison is due to insufficient rail and that an investment of $800 million is necessary.

    The fact that you insinuate that we should spend the $800 million because it will be spent somewhere would be funny if it were not a sad commentary on our society. Here is an idea, why not let the $800 million go elsewhere where it might actually provide a benefit? San Francisco to Seattle or LA might be a couple places to start.

    Clearly you and whatever your livelyhood is that generates the $200,000/year in taxes you claim to pay have a horse in this race. I expect you would stand profit by it moving forward. Myself? I am in the construction industry. I may benefit if it moves forward, but I prefer to see the right thing done for our state and country.

    You need not worry about sitting here and explaining simple concepts to our “ilk”. We can smell right through it as well today as we did on November 2nd.

  11. I’ve met with SEVERAL companies looking to relocate that list rail as a top priority to know that it would be a huge boon to economic development along the line. I have such an RFP on my desk right now. I have also heard this over and over again from peopel that run economic development for municipalities and counties in the area (and outside the area, for that matter). Sorry, but I’m not going to get more specific than that.

    There are also PLENTY of studies out there that illustrate how rail has “spurred” economic development… both around depots (retail, etc.) and along the line with freight spurs. Go look them up.

    Sure I have a horse in this race… who doesn’t claim economic development and jobs creation in this state as their horse? (A: people from other states)

  12. The Cal-Train commuter line in the San Franciso Bay area is looking at closing 1/2 of it’s stations due to budget issues. If passenger rail cannot be sustained there, where it is needed and used, it was wise not to squander the money on it here.

    Here is the report from the Mercury News:

  13. How long would the freeways last if maintenance funding were cut? How long would the airports stay open without funding from the FAA?

    Just because california can’t budget appropriately, doesn’t mean rail doesn’t work.

  14. Whatever financial problems California may have, they’ve been lessened by Scott Walker’s generous donation of $810 million of our money to them and to several other states. They’ll use it for HSR, and Wisconsinites will get to pay for it.

    It was a childish and revengeful move and an irreversible one, to which a Journal Sentinel poll of over 25,000 respondents shows strong opposition, and it’s a move that will increasingly haunt Scott Walker as his “jobs, jobs, jobs” talk is already proving to ring more and more hollow.

  15. Ms. Jeffries, any money that California may get for HSR does not help California’s budget situation. If anything it will hurt it as it will give it one more system to have to maintain. I will give California this, at a top speed of 200mph, their train can actually be considered “high speed”. Too bad it will get people from “nowhere to nowhere” very quickly.

    Funny, Mr Walker has been in office about 40 days and you are complaining about jobs. It took Mr. Doyle 8 years to drive companies out. It will take time to get them back.

    Did you know the Eaton Corporation is leaving the City of Milwaukee? They are going to Milwaukee County land. That deal occured while Mr Walker was County Executive. Checking the score board, Scott Walker 1, Tom Barrett 0.

    Jesse, it is sad that rail in the Bay Area is being cut as they have the population base that warrants it. It is surprising that even in a highly populated area that gets high use the train cannot sustain itself.

  16. “Did you know the Eaton Corporation is leaving the City of Milwaukee? They are going to Milwaukee County land. That deal occured while Mr Walker was County Executive. Checking the score board, Scott Walker 1, Tom Barrett 0.”

    I was unaware that the city of Milwaukee was not in Milwaukee County. Thanks for clearing that up for us.

    “Too bad it will get people from “nowhere to nowhere” very quickly.”

    According to Irwin, nowhere = Los Angeles, San Fran, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, etc.

    Man, this is some fascinating stuff we’re learning! Hard to believe it’s free.

    Perhaps there should be a simple intelligence test before people are allowed to post?

  17. I appreciate what you’re saying, Mr. Froman, but to the contrary, I hope those people keep right on posting away, because in doing so I feel they reinforce our points very nicely. (And their circuituous semantics and creative spellings and punctuations help out towards that end as well.)

  18. Abe:

    1.) Eaton had several choices for sites. City of Milwaukee (eliminated early), Tosa and Menomonee Falls (Waukesha Co). Tosa won out due to an incentive package provided by the county. While Barrett was unable to keep Eaton in Milwaukee, Walker was able to keep them in Milwaukee County. I think even you can understand that.

    2.) While the ultimate build out plan for HSR in California is to connect San Francisco and LA they will need to find 43 billion dollars to do so. That money is not committed. In the mean time they are using the last round HSR pork to build a 65 mile stretch from Madera to Corcoran. You would understand if you had ever driven that stretch of I-5 that it is indeed “nowhere to nowhere”. I am sure the remaining 42 billion to complete the system will fall out of the sky as both the state and federal governements are so flush with cash.

  19. Mr. Fletcher writes: “You would understand if you had ever driven that stretch of I-5 that it is indeed “nowhere to nowhere”.

    But not so ‘nowhere’ as to not have a road going there, we can assume, because they invested in one – a federally-funded one, at that – and I think even you might be able to grasp that concept.

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