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.[polldaddy poll=”4031472″]