Proposed Rail Station Moved to Downtown Madison

MacIver News Service – [Madison, Wisc…] The much-touted high speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee has yet to be built and already the location, scope and projected cost of the project has increased.

As originally proposed, the Madison station was planned for the Dane County regional airport, several miles from downtown. However today, Governor Jim Doyle announced that the Madison station would be downtown, near the Monona Terrace Convention Center.

“There were several other very good potential locations in Madison, but when considering all the factors, the Monona Terrace is clearly the best option,” said Doyle. “In 2013, Wisconsin will have modern high speed rail running from downtown Chicago to downtown Milwaukee to downtown Madison – a model for the future of rail in this country.”

Although the exact site has not yet been chosen, officials now say he station will be along Wilson Street, east or west of the convention center.

The project’s use of federal stimulus dollars was approved on a 12-4 party line vote by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee in February. It included $9 million for a station in Madison.

The Madison-to-Milwaukee line would initially require an estimated annual state subsidy of $7.5 million in 2013 and have 361,400 passengers, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

To accommodate the newly-announced downtown station, the city of Madison intends to speed up the planned demolition and replacement of a parking ramp and increase the size of the underground replacement ramp from 800 to 1200 spaces.

“Governor Doyle’s decision puts us on track for taking advantage of our new state-of-the-art rail system that will spur job creation and economic development across southern Wisconsin,” said Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. “Now it is up to all of us to move ahead locally with transportation plans to ensure that the new train station is an efficient transit hub that interconnects with cars, buses and bikes and in the future, local commuter trains.”

The move will increase the cost of the Madison to Milwaukee project, but exact figures were hard to come by Thursday.

The airport station had an estimated construction cost of 1.4 million dollars. A nine-year-old environmental analysis indicated it would cost $3 to $5 million dollars to build a rail station at Monona Terrace – and the track improvements would cost $10 million more than if the train route went to the airport.

While the announced changes brought swift praise from plan supporters it also brought equally swift condemnation from its detractors.

“Every announcement by Governor Doyle and (Milwaukee) Mayor Barrett on their controversial train boondoggle further commits our state to their pet project that taxpayers literally cannot afford,” said GOP gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who has vowed to stop the project if elected. “Our state’s transportation fund has been raided to the tune of $1.2 billion, which has delayed badly needed investment in our existing roads and bridges across Wisconsin.”

The construction work on existing rail lines could be finished as early as 2013 for passenger service with a top speed at 79 miles per hour. Plan supporters say later improvements to the line and the purchase of new diesel locomotives could allow a top speed of up to 110 miles per hour by 2016.