High-speed rail hits speed bump in Waukesha County

    Plans for a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison are hitting a snag in Republican stronghold Waukesha County.
    The Obama administration has appropriated $810 million in federal money to build the high-speed rail line.
    Originally, midway stops on the line were planned for Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.
    However, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation informed Oconomowoc officials this week that plans for a train station there have been dropped because of a lack of support from city officials.
    “In review of our discussions, you have indicated you no longer have interest in a station in the city of Oconomowoc,” said DOT Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi wrote this week in a letter to Oconomowoc Mayor James Daley. “Due to the lack of interest by the city we are discontinuing further discussions on a proposed station in Oconomowoc.”
    However, Oconomowoc officials say the DOT is exaggerating the city’s concerns about the high-speed rail line and train station project. City officials were only asking basic questions about what the train station would cost the city to build and to operate, said economic development director Bob Duffy.
    “We were surprised (by the DOT’s decision),” Duffy said. “Obviously, we had some questions. We are looking out for the best interests of our community. We’re obviously disappointed how the DOT decided to end our conversation.”
    The state indicated it would provide about $5 million to build the train station, but city officials never received a clear answer on how much the facility would cost, Duffy said. The city would have had to pay for any of the construction costs beyond $5 million, and would have had to pay for operations and maintenance costs, he said.
    Oconomowoc is about 13 miles east of Watertown, located in Dodge and Jefferson counties, where officials are supporting a high-speed rail station.
    “These are exciting times, I believe, for the city of Watertown for passenger rail, freight rail and our economic development for the future,” said Watertown Mayor Ron Krueger.
    Meanwhile, several residents in Brookfield are expressing opposition to plans for a high-speed rail station in their community. A large crowd turned out this week for a Brookfield Common Council discussion on the plans. Most of the residents who spoke on the topic objected to the train plans.
    Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman and Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph Czarnezki say the DOT should put a train station in Wauwatosa instead of Brookfield.
    “We should not spend tax dollars to construct stations in Waukesha County, where ridership is expected to be very low,” Czarnezki said in a letter this week to the DOT. A Wauwatosa station should be built near the Milwaukee County Research Park, he said.
    Some critics of the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line say the train will not be fast enough to attract riders. Eliminating the stop in Oconomowoc will reduce the travel time between the state’s two largest cities.
    The proposed high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison has become a major issue in the governor’s campaign with Democrat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in support and both Republicans, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former Congressman Mark Neumann, opposed. This week, Walker launched a new web site and television commercial against the high-speed rail project, and he held a press conference about his objection during President Barack Obama’s visit to Milwaukee on Monday.
    “The news that the Obama-Doyle-Barrett $810 million boondoggle train will not stop in Oconomowoc is yet more proof that public support for this project across Wisconsin is losing steam,” Walker said. “I will continue to join with citizens from across the state to say, ‘Yes we can,’ stop this train, and advocate using the money for roads and bridges instead.”
    "Oconomowoc is on the right track,” Neumann said. “United opposition from folks in Wisconsin can and will stop this waste of taxpayer money."
    Barrett campaign spokesman Phil Walzak criticized Walker’s opposition to the high-speed rail project.
    "Facts don’t seem to bother Scott Walker as he continues to deliberately deceive the people of Wisconsin about high-speed rail dollars,” Walker said. “He knows full well that this money cannot be used for any other purpose, yet he still misleads and misinforms. Walker needs to just tell Wisconsin he would rather see these resources sent to Oregon, Florida or Ohio, instead of here. That would at least be honest. Unfortunately, he keeps on saying anything to get elected, further proving he’s a guy we can’t trust."
    – BizTimes Milwaukee

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