The U.S. Department of Transportation has released its first round of funding to develop high-speed rail in the United States, including funds to jumpstart the line between Milwaukee and Madison.
In January, President Barack Obama announced that Wisconsin would be one of the states to receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act High-Speed and Inter-City Passenger Rail grants.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said, “The president’s vision for an American high-speed rail system will change the way Americans travel. And the grants DOT released are just the beginning steps of making that vision a reality.”
Vice President Joe Biden said, “Delivering these funds is an important step forward in our efforts to upgrade and transform America’s transportation system, while spurring economic activity and creating jobs here at home.”
“Those trains and their components will be made by skilled American workers,” Lahood said.
The largest portion of the funds released, $66.6 million, supports preliminary engineering on Florida’s planned 168-mph corridor between Tampa and Orlando.
The remainder of the first round of funds, $12.3 million, goes to states for critical upgrades to existing passenger rail service in preparation for high-speed projects, including: California’s “Capital Corridor” between San Francisco and Sacramento; Wisconsin’s Milwaukee-Madison route; New York’s 468-mile “Empire Corridor;” and New Mexico’s rail blueprint that will eventually link the Southwest’s major cities.
“Now, throughout the process of implementing a renewed American passenger rail system, we are talking about tens of thousands of jobs. Whether planning routes or laying track along those routes, whether manufacturing equipment or maintaining that equipment, and whether engineering rail systems or operating those systems, the president’s vision will put Americans to work,” Lahood said. “And, when the dust settles, this nation will have a world-class passenger rail system supporting a world-class economy.”
Talgo Inc., a Spanish company, is building a plant at the former Tower Automotive site in Milwaukee, where it will assemble high-speed rail cars.
In total, the Obama administration has allocated $810 million to build the high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison and another $13 million to upgrade the line between Milwaukee and Chicago and plans to extend the line to Minneapolis.
Eric Peterson, president of the American High Speed Rail Alliance, said, “An aggressive investment in high speed rail will create tens of thousands of new jobs, incredible reductions in green house gas emissions, huge savings in energy costs, and overall lower transportation costs for users of a high-speed rail system that is highly integrated with other transportation services.”
High-speed rail is shaping up to be a key issue in the 2010 Wisconsin governor’s race.
Critics of the high-speed rail expenditures, including Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann, contend the federal government cannot spend money it does not have. Walker and Neumann both have vowed to derail the Wisconsin project if they are elected in November. However, if they were to try to stop the project when they would take office in January, millions of federal dollars already will have been spent on the project, and the state would then have to pay that money back to the federal government, sources said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett supports the high-speed rail project, as well as a plan to develop a streetcar system in downtown Milwaukee.