By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Travelers will have to keep making the 80-mile trip between Madison and Milwaukee by road for the foreseeable future. And Democrats are livid about it.
President Barack Obama’s administration announced Thursday it will shift $810 million in federal stimulus dollars meant for a high-speed rail line between Wisconsin’s capital and largest city to other states, officially ending months of debate. The administration also pulled $385 million from Ohio that would have gone to create passenger rail in that state.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued a statement saying the administration stripped the two states of the money because incoming Republican governors opposed the projects.
The move marks a muted victory for Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker, who promised to kill the project because it was too expensive. He had urged Obama to shift the money from rail to the state’s roads, but that isn’t going to happen.
Wisconsin will still get $2 million to upgrade passenger rail service between Milwaukee and Chicago, but the rest of the nearly $1.2 billion meant for Wisconsin and Ohio will go to rail projects across more than a dozen other states.
Democrats had hailed the project, saying it would be a key step toward linking Chicago and the Twin Cities by rail and stimulating Wisconsin’s economy. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has said building the line would have created about 5,500 jobs. He has warned that stopping the project will result in the immediate loss of more than 400 jobs and cost the state the more than $14 million it has already spent on the line.
“I obviously am deeply saddened to see us take a major step backward,” Doyle said in a statement. “Now we are moving from being the leader, to the back of the line.”
Walker touted himself as a job creator on the campaign trail, but has said he wasn’t interested in train construction jobs because the state needs sustainable positions created outside of government. He also objected to the estimated $7.5 million it would cost the state to run the line, even though Doyle has said the federal government would have probably picked up most of the cost.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie didn’t immediately return messages Thursday afternoon.
Jodi Tabak, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a train supporter who lost to Walker in the gubernatorial race in November, had no immediate comment. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz planned a news conference later Thursday afternoon.
Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., which promotes development in Madison, called the loss of the money “extremely disappointing.”
“Oh, my gosh. I usually don’t cry,” she said. “What did we accomplish here? Nothing in Wisconsin. We become the losers.”
State Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, issued a statement saying she was outraged.
“This is nothing short of economic suicide,” she said. “Before even measuring the curtains for his future office, Governor-elect Walker pulled the trigger on killing this project, putting an end to good jobs for the citizens he will soon represent.”