Wisconsin appears to be in the driver's seat for high speed rail. That from Steve Hiniker with the environmental advocacy group One thousand Friends of Wisconsin. Hiniker says Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest have a leg up in the competition with other regions, for an eight billion dollar pot of federal grant money. "If you read through the regulations, it is looking for projects that have the environmental work already done, (and) that there's some level of state commitment to the project," says Hiniker, noting that environmental work has already been done by the Wisconsin DOT, and Governor Jim Doyle and his fellow midwest governors are all aboard with the project.
Hiniker doesn't think the state's fiscal crisis will be a problem in securing the federal funding. "It's unclear as to what state share will be required," he says. Projects "score higher if there's a state share."
The Obama administration released project regulations last week, and the process will now be moving fast. Public comments are due by July 1st, the federal money will be awarded in late September, and the first high speed link between Chicago and Milwaukee could be complete by 2011.
Of course, high speed is a relative term. "The current service is 88 miles and hour, where we have rail service in Wisconsin," Hiniker says. "This would be 110 miles an hour." That's considerably slower than high speed trains in Europe and Asia, but still faster passenger rail service than the Midwest has ever had before.