High speed rail on the fast track

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published May 1, 2009  | May 2009 issue

Officials in the Badger State are eyeing transportation funds in the federal stimulus package to get high speed trains chugging between the state’s two largest metros, and possibly beyond.

The federal stimulus earmarks $8 billion for high-speed rail, and many believe that a link between Madison and Milwaukee—discussed for more than a decade—could be high on the list, along with service improvements between Milwaukee and Chicago. There are reasons for optimism on the part of rail advocates: Midwestern congressional members carry considerable clout, as does a certain former senator from Illinois. Chicago is also vying to host the Olympics in 2016, and some cycling events might take place in Madison. Engineering on the Madison-to-Milwaukee route has already been completed and received federal environmental approval.

But this and other high-speed projects have been mothballed due to lack of federal or state funding. Current state estimates put the cost of the Madison-to-Milwaukee route at $500 million. Whereas the state would usually be on the hook for 20 percent of that cost, the use of federal stimulus money would mean the federal government would pick up the entire tab.

Ronald A. Wirtz