Options Are Good
March 14, 2010 6:12 PM
Another idea for a Madison high speed rail station surfaced on Friday. The proposed station off Willy Street, six blocks from the Capitol is an interesting one that I want to learn more about. It joins other ideas including the airport, the Kohl Center, Monona Terrace, Union Corners and Yahara Station. At this point, it's good to have more options.
Of these options, Yahara Station has the most momentum behind it and, in fact, it has a lot to recommend it. Still, I think that most of us would prefer a station in the heart of downtown. Up until now, that seemed unlikely mostly because the train would have to deviate from its route up to the Twin Cities when that service becomes available.
But when I met with Federal officials in Washington last week, they were open to at least exploring the idea of coming downtown. In fact, I was impressed with how in tune they were with the idea that a rail station should get people to where they want to go and that it should be a catalyst for other development.
I also got more clarification on the process going forward. There will be an environmental assessment done to evaluate the potential station sites and other issues along the route. That assessment will go well beyond strictly environmental issues to also include engineering advantages and challenges, transit oriented development potential, impacts on neighborhoods and on other forms of travel, etc. Most importantly, it's through the EA process that the public input will occur.
Some have asked why Madison isn't running its own process or why the city isn't advocating strongly for one site. The reason is that we don't have nearly enough information to do that responsibly. I do not want to expend taxpayer funds to evaluate a station before we know what the rules of the game are. What we need is a process where candidate sites are identified, fully evaluated for their technical feasibility, convenience for riders, adjacent development potential and other factors. Only after we have all the objective information we need and there are plenty of chances for public input can we come to a consensus on the best station for us.
That process should start this spring with the selection by the Wisconsin DOT on a consultant to run the process.
But throughout this process let's keep three principles in mind.
First, we can and will make any site work. Madison is very fortunate to be one of the first cities on the new high speed rail network. Even the most challenging site for us is far better than not moving forward.
Second, we should get the best site possible for Madison. There are sites that have multiple benefits for us and we should try to make those work before moving on to less advantageous alternatives.
Third, we will get this done on time. The process, deadlines and final decisions are in the hands of the state and federal governments. My guess is that they'll want this wrapped up by the end of the year or earlier, and I think that's a great goal.
If we just keep our eyes on the prize, welcome different ideas and ask the right questions, I'm confident we will end up with the right answer.