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Home / Government / Gov. elect, Madison mayor at odds over high-speed rail future (UPDATE)

Gov. elect, Madison mayor at odds over high-speed rail future (UPDATE)

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker shakes hands with supporters after his post-election victory speech on Tuesday in Pewaukee. Walker re-affirmed on Monday his position to kill high-speed rail projects in the state. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Gov.-elect Scott Walker talks about his position on the future of high-speed rail in Wisconsin with members of the media Monday at the University Club of Milwaukee. Walker reasserted his opposition to the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed line, saying the state cannot afford it. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Marie Rohde

Scott Walker says make no mistake about it: He has not waffled in his opposition to high-speed rail.

“I don’t think we can afford it,” Wisconsin’s governor-elect said Monday.

Walker put to rest speculation that he wavered in his opposition during a phone call last week to Talgo Inc. representatives, who had said they would leave Milwaukee if the train line was killed.

The Spanish company recently opened a factory in Milwaukee to build the trains.

Walker noted Monday that Talgo already has made an investment in the Milwaukee factory.

“Would they be willing to make another investment somewhere else?” he said.

Despite Walker’s strong statements, at least one high-speed rail proponent, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said he will not admit defeat. He said he is urging the business community to step in and persuade Walker to reverse his position.

The Madison mayor said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who lost the gubernatorial race to Walker, has urged business leaders to do the same. Barrett did not immediately return calls.

“There’s nothing surprising in what I’ve heard Scott Walker say,” Cieslewicz said. “I wouldn’t expect him to be elected on Tuesday and reverse himself on Monday.”

Walker has based his high-speed rail opposition on the annual $7.5 million state cost to operate the system. The figure is based on estimates from Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.

“I looked at every other rail system around,” Walker said, “and it’s almost certain that the number will be significantly higher.”

He said he would not change his mind even if he is given new figures.

“Every time there’s a little push back, (train proponents) say, ‘Maybe there’s another way to reconfigure the numbers,'” Walker said.

Cieslewicz said the state’s monetary contribution to the system is minor.

“The Department of Transportation has an annual budget of $3.2 billion a year,” Cieslewicz said. “They probably spent $7.5 million this morning. If that’s the problem, let’s sit down and address the issue.”

Cieslewicz said the business community, the federal government, Madison, Milwaukee and Walker could come to an agreement.

“I can’t believe we would allow that small subsidy to stand between us and creating 4,700 construction jobs,” Cieslewicz said, referring to WisDOT’s estimated peak construction employment during the high-speed rail project.

A Madison rail station, he said, also could create millions of dollars in ancillary development. The city has been planning for a possible station at the state’s Department of Administration building in downtown Madison.

The only other stop planned for the high-speed line is in Watertown. Alderman Brad Blanke said the community has spent $35,000 on plans for a station.

“I’ve been somewhat opposed to moving forward at all until there’s some security at the state and federal levels,” he said, “because I don’t want the city to dump money into a project that’s dead on arrival.”

Brookfield’s political leaders have delayed approval of a station there because of the uncertainty of high-speed rail’s future.

Walker wants to redirect the federal high-speed rail money, he said, to state road projects.

There may be some precedent for that strategy. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, now president of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago, said last week that federal money set aside in the early 1990s for a light-rail system in the Milwaukee area eventually was used for other projects.

Some of that money, Norquist said, was used for the Sixth Street viaduct project, and about $90 million is slated for a downtown trolley in Milwaukee.

Still, Norquist was critical of shifting money away from mass transit.

“If you spend tax money on mass transit, it’s socialism,” he said. “If you spend tax money on highways, it’s free enterprise.”

If Walker can’t spend the money on road projects, he said, it should be returned to the federal government and used to offset the deficit.

“I am not conceding that is the only option,” Walker said.


  1. Is he retarded?

    *Speaking very slowly and loudly*

    Holy Christ… how did someone so dense get elected?

  2. Amen to that Abe.

  3. Abe-

    Why should we build a train that won’t be used?

    And it’s not a given that the money will be used by another state, as the quote from John Norquist informed you, had you read the article.

  4. Gov Walker… were elected to kill this financial beast. Kill it and kill it now. We can’t afford the upkeep and nobody will ride it.

    Ignore the loons from Madison. They do not represent this state,.

    Don’t be another idiot like Doyle. This is his screw up, not yours.

    Looking forward to many Walker terms, just like Tommy

  5. Is Walkerso unsophisticated that he thinks the Spanish will stay in Wisconsin if we ditch high speed rail? It reminds me of the time he lured a great administrator to Milwaukee County with a salary hike and then reduced that salary once he was on board. The guy returned to his old job.

  6. I live in the New York area. Thank you Gov Walker for turning down the money. We hope to put it to good use over here!

    Sorry to the residents of your state though, forever consigned to be stuck in traffic.

  7. Jesse James stole money from trains but Gov.-elect Scott Walker is stealing whole trains. Trains that would take us into a future of less congestion and pollution. Trains that would deliver increasing energy efficiency desperately needed in a world of decreasing fossil fuels. Trains that have already left the station, but will now incur a cost of derailment that admittedly pales compared to the opportunity cost in the postponement of an inevitable future. Walker is walking away from the future, backward to a past of cheap fossil fuels.

  8. The high speed train will be a boon to the city. This action is positive and and will contribute to the local economy as well. By stopping this project, we rob ourselves the opportunity to become an even better city. We must be open in our attitudes, believe in diversity and have an interdependence mentality for improvement. We must be ready to accept the challenges of being a modern city willing to embrace change by building bridges between cities and people.

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