» Governor Jim Doyle proposes using stimulus money for Madison-to-Milwaukee line.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Wisconsin is to apply for $519 million in stimulus funds for the Milwaukee-Madison tin-hsr program, which will reactivate an abandoned freight line between the state’s biggest cities. Wisconsin joins the list of states gearing up for a part of the $8 billion in high-speed rail money that Congress approved last month. New York will ask for funds for a third track between Albany and Buffalo, Illinois is pushing improvements for the line between Chicago and St. Louis, Washington will work to improve the Cascades corridor between Portland and Seattle, and California will of course be angling for a huge percentage of the money for its already partially-funded Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line.
Wisconsin’s first priority will be connecting its two biggest cities, which currently lacks any kind of rail link. Trains running at up to 110 mph would run along the corridor in 1h07 six times a day, round trip. Meanwhile, the current Hiawatha Amtrak service between Chicago and Milwaukee would ramp up to ten trains a day from the seven currently offered.
Governor Jim Doyle (D) also suggested that the state would be pushing forward quickly with other corridors as soon as it could secure funding. The Chicago-to-Milwaukee line would be sped up to 110 mph for a cost of $419 million and provide an astonishing 17 round trips daily; a new corridor between Milwaukee and Green Bay would be activated at a cost of $421 million, with 7 trains daily; and a line from Madison to St. Paul, Minnesota would be constructed and upgraded for a cost of $456 million (in Wisconsin alone), for six trains daily.
This last corridor is one of the more important in the nation since it would connect with the Twin Cities, whose metro population is more than three million. Travel between Chicago and that area could expand significantly with faster trip times. But Minnesota, under a Republican governor, has been less active in pushing for rail improvements and as a result most of the planning for improvements has been on the Wisconsin side. That said, citizen and business groups in Rochester, Minnesota, a city of 85,000 in the southeast section of the state, are pushing to reroute current Amtrak services through their city on the way to St. Paul. Such a connection would require the construction of new track and acquisition of right-of-way, so it’s unclear whether the state will be able to develop a viable funding solution to that problem, or whether Minnesota will invest in rail at all.
But the news from Wisconsin is great news on all fronts – the state has developed a long-term vision for rail services there and has prioritized a corridor for federal stimulus investment. For a small state like Wisconsin, which already has good rail ridership and could see large increases with service improvements, $519 million seems a reasonable sum for which to demand from Washington. We’ll see in June what Secretary LaHood thinks.