State speeds train spending

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From an article by Jason Stein and Patrick Marleyin the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

$300 million in contracts projected this year, far above $50 million announced earlier

Madison — The state is steaming ahead with establishing a federal high-speed rail line, projecting it will commit $300 million this year - far more than the roughly $50 million in spending previously announced.

The project's price tag isn't changing. Instead, Gov. Jim Doyle's administration is hustling to move forward with the planned passenger rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, which Republicans say is an attempt to make it harder for the next governor to cancel.

GOP gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have said they would stop the train line regardless of how much the state spends in the next few months because of concerns about taxpayer subsidies to operate the system. Calling the accelerated spending a bluff, Walker said Monday that a new governor could get the state out of contracts entered into by the Doyle administration.

"By the end of the year it is anticipated we will have expended $300 million," state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said Sunday in an interview on "UpFront with Mike Gousha."

Busalacchi aide Cari Anne Renlund clarified Monday that the state will have spent or entered into contracts for roughly that amount by the end of the year but won't necessarily have spent that much. The construction of the $810 million line is being paid for by the federal government, but the state could be on the hook for both the spending and possibly the contracts signed on it so far if the state doesn't finish the construction.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, said he did not believe Busalacchi's new figure of $300 million. He said the state may sign contracts worth $100 million or so before the end of the year, but he believes as governor he would be able to break those contracts and pay only for the work that has actually been performed.

"I think this is all just part of the political rhetoric to try to intimidate people into thinking this is a done deal, and I just don't think people are going to buy it," Walker said. "I think in the end this is more a bluff on their part."

The route, which is supported by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and previously had the backing of then GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, would be an extension of Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and eventually could be extended to the Twin Cities. It would start service in 2013 at a top speed of 79 mph, increasing to 110 mph by the end of 2015.