High-speed rail hearing set for Madison, Dec. 7

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is holding a series of public hearings around the state in the next week, and these hearings could make or break the future of high speed rail in Wisconsin.

This is our chance to stand together and send a message loud and clear to our public leaders that Wisconsin supports high speed rail.

The meetings will run from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and will take place in the following cities over the next week:

Thursday, Dec. 2 in Fond du Lac at UW-Fond du Lact campus, 400 University Drive in Fond du Lac.

Tuesday, Dec. 7 in Madison at the WisDOT Southwest Region Office, 2101 Wright Street

If you can't attend one of the hearings, you can still make your voice heard by signing our 'Save the Train' letter to Governor-elect Scott Walker at https://secure3.convio.net/pn/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=576.

“What are you fighting FOR, Mr. Walker?”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My letter to the Wisconsin State Journal is below. 
Hans Noeldner

Dear Governor-elect Walker:

You and your cohorts spent the past election season fighting tracks and trains and high speed rail. But what are you fighting FOR?

Are you committed to making your community - Wisconsin - a place where it is safe and practical for people to walk, bicycle, use wheelchairs, and share transit? Are people who cannot drive, families who cannot afford a car, and those who don’t have the luxury of 24/7/365 chauffeur service welcome in YOUR neighborhood?

Are you fighting to keep “them” out? Or are you committed to access for all?

Madison Peak Oil Group at the train rally in Madison

Monday, November 22, 2010

David Knuti represented the Madison Peak Oil Group, an event sponsor, at the Madison rally to convince Governor-elect Walker to accept $810 million from the federal government for a Madison-Milwaukee train line.

Solar-powered hot water system to be installed at Dane County Public Safety Building

Friday, November 19, 2010

From a news release issued by County Executive Kathleen Falk:

Federal Energy Stimulus Project to Save Taxpayers
Thousands in Energy Costs

Starting in early 2011, hot water that comes out of faucets, showers, or clothes washers in the Dane County Public Safety Building (PSB) will be heated by the sun. That’s because Dane County has been awarded a federal energy stimulus grant for installation of a new solar-powered hot water system that will save taxpayers thousands of dollars in energy costs.

The Public Safety Building includes the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, the Dane County Department of Emergency Management, and the Dane County Jail where hundreds of inmates take showers and have laundry done daily.
Instead of just using costly natural gas to heat water, the new system will use heat generated by a series of 16 solar panels on the roof of the PSB to heat hundreds of gallons of water for use in the building. Once the water is heated, it will be stored in insulated tanks in the basement and ready for use. Those tanks will hold 620 gallons of hot water.

“By harnessing the power of the sun, we’re going to save taxpayers thousands in energy costs,” County Executive Kathleen Falk said. “This federally-funded project has the added benefit of putting paychecks in the back-pockets of local workers from a local company.”

In addition to the $150,000 in energy cost savings over the life of the system, the county will also receive a one-time $25,000 rebate from Focus on Energy for installing the new system. . . .

Rally for trains this Saturday!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Saturday, join the Sierra Club and local leaders to urge Governor-elect Scott Walker to continue construction to restore train service to Madison. This will create thousands of jobs, increase travel choices to Milwaukee, take 500,000 cars off of the road, and reduce greenhouse air pollution by 418 million pounds. Or will we give $810 million in federal grant funding to Illinois, lose at least 5,000 jobs for Wisconsin workers, and continue our dependence on dirty big oil?

12:00 Noon
Rally at the Wilson Street Surface Lot, 400 S. Hancock St.

Speakers include:
Bob Lien, Owner, Lien Tech Inc, Steel Fabricator, Stoughton;
Chris Klein or Dave Cieslewicz, Mayor’s office, invited;
Rep. Mark Pocan, AD 78;
Scott Ross, Director, One Wisconsin Now;
Steve Hiniker, Director, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

UW official: Walker rejection of biomass project would mean loss of jobs and rail upgrade

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From an article by James Briggs in The Daily Reporter:

A University of Wisconsin official warns that an initiative of Gov.-elect Scott Walker could prevent rail upgrades and cost jobs.

If that sounds familiar, there‘s good reason. High-speed rail advocates have said Walker’s plan to stop efforts toward a Madison-to-Milwaukee line would kill as many as 9,570 jobs (a Sierra Club estimate).

Walker has said only 55 permanent jobs would be eliminated.

In this case, though, Alan Fish, UW-Madison’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, isn’t talking about high-speed rail. Fish on Monday said if Walker removes a biomass boiler from plans for the Charter Street Heating Plant conversion on the UW-Madison campus, it would mean fewer jobs.

Walker hinted at the move last week in a letter to Department of Administration Secretary Daniel Schooff, but has neither clarified nor confirmed his intentions. A Walker spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

“In order to have a biomass boiler constructed on the site, we’re going to have to have both a fuel storage capacity and some increases in the rail lines, so we can park rail cars right next to the plant,” Fish said. “That would mean building another rail bridge over Park Street and the East Campus Mall so we can make sure freight traffic can still go through while we’re parking cars and unloading.”

The rail work is included in the $251 million conversion project that is under way and set to be completed in 2013. Because the project is phased, though, Fish said it would not be difficult to leave out the biomass boiler. Such a decision would downsize the project, he said.

“If we go to (only) natural gas, we’re going to concentrate all the capital investment in the plant and expansion of the plant,” Fish said. “Fuel handling would come out, the rail work would come out and the biomass boiler and air pollution control is going to come out.”

LaHood says high-speed rail funds will be quickly reallocated to other states

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

The Obama administration plans to quickly reallocate money designated for high-speed rail if states granted the funds reject them, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood made the announcement Monday night to hundreds of politicians, businesspeople, urban planners and rail enthusiasts gathered in New York City to assess the state of high-speed rail in the United States. The three-day conference was presented by the U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR).

Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, a Republican, has called a planned $810 million high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison a “boondoggle” and is vowing to stop the project.

Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich, also a Republican, has called a planned $400 million high-speed rail line to connect Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland a “dead train.”

LaHood said Wisconsin and Ohio will forfeit those federal funds if their governors reject the rail lines.

When the state funds are rejected, LaHood said Monday night, they will be redistributed "in a professional way in places where the money can be well spent,” according to The Washington Post.

Walker urges Doyle to halt projects, including UW biomass plant

Monday, November 15, 2010

From an article by Jason Stein and Lee Bergquist in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Governor-elect Scott Walker asked Gov. Jim Doyle Thursday to freeze his administration's push on high-profile issues ranging from the implementation of the federal health care law to a costly upgrade of a state power plant until Walker takes office on Jan. 3.

Doyle and his aides made no commitment to do that, though a top cabinet secretary said Doyle would work with Walker in an "orderly and responsible manner."

Three past governors from both political parties and the top aides to two more past governors said Thursday that the transition duel playing out between Walker, a Republican, and Doyle, a Democrat, is unprecedented in a generation of Wisconsin politics. . . .

In a letter Thursday [November 11] to Doyle Administration Secretary Dan Schooff, Walker requested:

• Stopping unfinished negotiations with unions on the 2009-'11 labor contracts so they can be considered as part of the upcoming 2011-'13 state budget. Walker campaigned on making public workers cover more of their benefits, including pension contributions.

• Freezing the implementation of the new health legislation, including the establishment of a state health insurance exchange that would allow individuals to purchase coverage.

• Making plans to shift the source of power from biomass to natural gas at a University of Wisconsin-Madison power plant that is being upgraded.

Carrotmob ‘green buycott’ at Ian’s Pizza increases business

Friday, November 12, 2010

From an article by Tessa Hahn in The Daily Herald:

What did carrots, a solar powered water heater and lots of Ian's pizza have in common Thursday night? The mission student group Carrotmob has to make Madison "green."

Carrotmob, which aims to raise awareness about environmental issues, teamed up with Ian's Pizza on State Street on their latest quest to help local businesses go green. The objective for the event was to raise money so Ian's could buy a solar-powered water heater.

The group held a "buycott," instead of a "boycott," in which the group promoted business for Ian's by attracting students to the restaurant, hosting a disc jockey, dancing and a carrot mascot.

"Right now we're running an electric [water heater], which is really inefficient," Ian's manager Jack Thurnblad said. "The electricity we'd be replacing with it can power a normal family home for seven months."

With 50 percent the proceeds from every slice going toward the fund for the solar-powered water heater, Hayley Blum and Claire Howick, co-managers of Carrotmob, hope to make a dip into the fund for the $13,000 purchase. Compared to a normal Thursday night, profits were already up 45 percent by 9:30 p.m.

Business leaders in Milwaukee, Madison differ on train

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From an article by in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison - Milwaukee business leaders are showing little public opposition to Governor-elect Scott Walker's plans to stop a Milwaukee to Madison passenger rail line while some business leaders in Madison are trying to revive the $810 million federally funded project.

One reason for that difference: Milwaukee already has the successful Amtrak Hiawatha line connecting the city to the Midwest business powerhouse of Chicago while Madison residents would need the Milwaukee line to have a rail connection to the Windy City.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said that his members are much more focused on seeing what Walker can do to balance the state budget, lower or hold down taxes and refocus Wisconsin's strategy to grow businesses. Supporting the passenger rail line - or actively opposing the newly elected governor on the issue - just isn't a priority, he said.

"Quite frankly, our focus was on ensuring that we had that (Hiawatha) connection to Chicago for lots of reasons. (The Madison line has) been more of a nice-to-have discussion than a need-to-have discussion in the business community in southeastern Wisconsin," Sheehy said Wednesday. "In a sense, why beat a dead train?"

But in Madison, business leaders do see more of a benefit to the connection to Chicago. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has gone on record supporting the project.

Kevin Conroy, president and chief executive officer of the Madison biotech company Exact Sciences Corp., has been seeking to revive support for the passenger rail line. Conroy is no stranger to politics - he briefly considered running for governor last year as a Democrat before bowing out to let Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett run unopposed.

Illinois: We'll take Wisconsin's $810M for Chicago-St. Louis route

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

From an article by Mary Wisniewski in the Chicago Sun Times:

Illinois wants the $810 million in federal high-speed rail money that Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker has promised to reject.

“We’d love to have it,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig. He said Illinois, which has already received $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funding, could spend Wisconsin’s money making further improvements to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor to add more passenger runs.

The money also could be used to build stations in Joliet and Rockford, Hannig said.

Walker, a Republican, made opposing a high-speed train line from Milwaukee to Madison a key part of his campaign against Democrat Tom Barrett. Walker objected to the state having to pay up to $7.5 million a year in ongoing operational costs.

State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) said he would work with other lawmakers to persuade the U.S. Department of Transportation to transfer the money to Illinois. He also would like to see trainmaker Talgo, Inc. move here. Talgo has said it can’t promise to stay in Milwaukee if the state rejects the rail project.

Walker asks Talgo to stay; says rail decision isn't final

Monday, November 08, 2010

From an article by Jason Stein and Tom Heldin the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison — Governor-elect Scott Walker reached out to a Milwaukee train manufacturer Friday, seeking to keep its operations in the state long-term as he advocates for stopping a passenger rail project involving the company.

"Governor-elect Walker is reaching out to leadership at Talgo to encourage them to stay in Wisconsin," Walker spokeswoman Jill Bader said Friday.

A spokeswoman for Talgo, the U.S. unit of the Spanish firm Patentes Talgo, said that Walker told company officials that his decision to stop a proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee passenger rail line is "not final."

Walker, a Republican, campaigned on an unambiguous promise to end the passenger rail line, funded with $810 million in federal stimulus money, which he has called a boondoggle. Bader said Walker was not backing away from that promise.

This week, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, a supporter of the project, halted work on that line temporarily after Walker's election.

That has thrown some doubt over jobs at Talgo, which is building two trains for an existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago rail service and had plans to build two more for the proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison line. The company has a site at the former Tower Automotive property.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said Friday during a briefing in her Milwaukee office that other states are clearly in line to take the funds if Wisconsin turns them down. A lack of public transportation is a significant cause of the high unemployment in the central city because residents there can't reach jobs in the suburbs, she said.

"Walker has a record of being anathema to public transportation," Moore said.

New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo made a pitch for the rail money that the governors-elect in Wisconsin and Ohio have pledged to reject. He sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking that the roughly $1.26 billion be redirected to pay for a rail project that would connect New York City, upstate New York, Toronto and Montreal.

"High-speed rail is critical to building the foundation for future economic growth, especially upstate," Cuomo said in a statement. "If these governors-elect follow through on their promises to cancel these projects, a Cuomo administration would move quickly to put the billions in rejected stimulus funding toward projects that would create thousands of good jobs for New Yorkers."

PSC backs bigger investment in energy efficiency

Friday, November 05, 2010

From a blog post by Tom Content on JSonline:

Wisconsin’s energy efficiency programs would receive increased funding from electricity ratepayers in the next four years under a proposal adopted Thursday by the state Public Service Commission.

The state's Focus on Energy program has been reallocating its budget to meet the heavy demand for energy-efficiency services from the business community, according to the PSC.

The commission’s action must be endorsed by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

A study by the Energy Center of Wisconsin, released last year, concluded Wisconsin could triple funding for energy efficiency and achieve $1 billion in savings on energy bills for customers.

Citing the economy, the commission voted to increase funding for efficiency initiatives, but didn’t increase spending as much as advocates had sought.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto urged the agency to adopt a more gradual ramp-up in funding for energy efficiency given the state of the economy.

“Rates will go up over time if we don’t invest in energy efficiency,” he said. “I’m also cognizant of the economic woes the state is now facing.”

The PSC decision would set a target of reducing the state’s electricity demand by 1.5% beginning in 2014.

Under the proposal, funding for energy-efficiency programs would expand to $120 million in 2011 from $100 million this year, with the goal of expanding incentives aimed at reducing energy bills.

Funding would then increase to $160 million in 2012, $204 million in 2013, and $256 million in 2014, under the PSC proposal.

For the next four years, the minimum funding level for renewables will be $10.8 million in 2011, $14.4 million in 2012, $18.36 million in 2013 and $23.04 million in 2014.

Walker says he will stop train project to Milwaukee

Thursday, November 04, 2010

From an article by Clay Barbour in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Some $800 million in contracts, a series of difficult legal hurdles and a struggling economy will not stop Governor-elect Scott Walker from doing what he promised on the campaign trail — stopping the train.

Walker, a Republican, soundly defeated Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for the right to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. He takes power Jan. 1.

The Milwaukee County executive ran a strong campaign on a series of checkbook issues, vowing to cut government spending by $300 million, bring 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin and roll back $1.8 billion in tax increases approved last year.

But few issues so caught the public's attention as Walker's promise to stop the $810 million Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger rail project, a project officials hope one day will link the Midwest, from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Wisconsin transportation officials earlier this week signed a deal to commit the state to spending all of the $810 million in federal stimulus money on rail project, a significant move because it makes it harder for rail opponents like Walker to stop it.

Many political experts felt Walker was simply using the train to gin up voters, never truly intending to bring a halt to the project — a move that could end up costing the state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. Some assumed Doyle rushed the contracts through in an effort to tie the governor-elect's hands.

But on Wednesday, Walker reiterated his intention to stop the train and said he believed there was a way to do it without the state losing its shirt.

Voters say no in advisory referendum on commuter rail

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

From an article by Steven Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal:

In almost all of the 45 suburban and rural Dane County communities that held advisory referendums on commuter rail Tuesday, voters said no to the idea of a half-cent sales tax.

One of the lead organizers of the referendum campaign, Mike Thomsen, said the vote shows county leaders are out of touch.

"They should start paying attention to the people out there," said Thomsen, a leader of No Tax for Tracks, which spent about $6,500 on radio advertising, signs and fliers urging a no vote.

"They should drop the entire idea of commuter rail," Thomsen said. "We need to have a transit plan, but it has to be something we can afford and something that serves the purpose."

Proponents of a commuter train system said they weren't surprised by the results because the ballot questions — put together by train opponents — don't reflect what eventually will be proposed: a system heavy on buses, with only a fraction of expenditures going to rail.

"To spend that much money on rail alone, you would have commuter rail running down about every street in the county," said Scott McDonell, Dane County Board chairman. "If I were in Sun Prairie, I would have voted no."

Forty-five municipalities had a version of a rail referendum on their ballots. Most asked if voters support a half-cent sales tax for commuter rail between Middleton and the town of Burke, just west of Sun Prairie.

The municipalities voting represent roughly 40 percent of the county's population and more than 75 percent of the population outside Madison. The city of Madison, along with Fitchburg and a dozen towns and villages, didn't hold referendums.

Wisconsin, feds sign high-speed rail deal

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

From an article in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Transportation officials have confirmed that Wisconsin and federal administrators have signed a deal to commit the state to spending all $810 million of its federal stimulus cash on a proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on its website Monday night the agreement was reached just days before today's election.

The deal is significant because it could make it harder for opponents to stop the controversial project, which officials originally hoped would one day connect the Midwest, from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the Republican nominee and gubernatorial frontrunner, has said repeatedly that he wanted to stop the rail project, even if it meant repaying hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government. On Monday, he called the deal "raw political power at its worst."

But Cari Anne Renlund, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, said Gov. Jim Doyle's administration was only following its original plan for the project to create construction jobs as soon as possible.

"Essentially what this means is that we've satisfied the federal government that we are ready to start the construction phase," Renlund, the No. 3 official at the state Department of Transportation, told the State Journal. "We can put people on the job and pay them."