State lawmakers have approved spending $810 million dollars in federal stimulus funding on Madison to Milwaukee high speed rail. Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison) is a co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee. “I think it’s going to positive for not only this region, but for the entire state,” said Pocan. “It’s positive for our economy. And like the other $3.8 billion that we put to good use, that’s come from the federal government to help Wisconsin, this will do even more.”

All four Republicans on the panel voted against accepting the federal money, arguing the trains will be underused, and will have to be subsidized by the state. “What concerns me is this is a wish that people sort of went to a want and now all of a sudden we think it’s a need said Senator Luther Olson (R-Ripon). “This isn’t mass transit, this is elite transit. When we can’t even provide for the roads that we have right now . . . maybe we need to say ‘thanks federal government, but no thanks,’ because this isn’t what we need.”

“The road to prosperity is just not paved by asphalt alone,” argued Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit). “We need to look at these multimodal ways of providing transportation, and this is a long overdue investment for Wisconsin.” The committee vote clears the way for the state Department of Transportation to begin soliciting bids on the high speed rail project. Work could begin this year. 

Tickets for a trip on the high speed trains – from downtown Milwaukee to Madison with stops in Brookfield, Watertown and Oconomowoc – are estimated to cost about $33 dollars one way, and Amtrak estimates more than 361,000 people will use the line in its first year. One Republican on the panel pointed out that that’s the approximately the number of cars on the Milwaukee Interstate system every day.

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:05 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (1:05 MP3)

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