July 1, 2009 12:25 PM
I got a very good email the other day from former alder and current Plan Commission member Tim Gruber. Tim is a passionate urbanist, and he made a very powerful case for a downtown rail station to connect to Milwaukee and the Twin Cities when high speed rail comes to Madison.
A little bit of quick background. Mayor Tom Barrett in Milwaukee and Mayor R.T. Rybak in Minneapolis have joined me for many years in advocating for high speed rail connecting our cities, and now with a new administration in Washington, we think our chances are excellent. There is $8 billion available for high speed rail in the federal Recovery Act and another $1 billion per year promised in the regular federal budget bills going forward. And the state of Wisconsin share of the cost has already been approved and set aside. Governor Jim Doyle and our local legislators are strong supporters.
The interesting question for us right now is where the station should be located in Madison. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is very supportive of a station at the Dane County Regional airport. They like the airport over downtown because coming downtown would add about a half hour to the trip and necessitate an awkward train movement backing out of the downtown. In addition, there is plenty of parking at the airport, and it can be an intermodal station serving travel by train, plane, car, bike and intercity bus. We can connect the station to downtown with frequent express Metro bus service. And the environmental studies have already been done going to the airport, but not coming downtown.
In the end, I don't think it's a choice between an airport and a downtown station. At some point we might have both. However, one of the things that makes us a very strong candidate for winning federal funding for high speed rail this year (with service beginning in as little as three years) is the fact that we are literally "shovel ready." Pushing for a downtown station at this point would risk delay of federal approval for our project, as the EIS would have to be extended, state funding might not be adequate, and the current unanimity of support among the jurisdictions might be fractured.
So, I am more inclined to support the airport station to get us started with a view to adding a second station downtown at a later point.