The meeting was the sixth of seven planned throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Confusion quickly set in at Tuesday's high-speed rail open house meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Madison's east side.
The session wasn't meant to be a discussion of the Milwaukee to Madison high-speed rail line, but a presentation of studies analyzing routes for high-speed rail between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. Most "reasonable, feasible" routes presented Tuesday by a Wisconsin Department of Transportation official run through Madison and would link up with the rail line that is currently in doubt.
But for many in attendance, the meeting served as a needed catharsis in light of Gov.-elect Scott Walker's plans to stop construction of a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison. Walker's plan would return grants secured for that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) project to the federal government. Several signs spotted in the standing-room-only crowd listed the benefits that would be lost without that line.
But many attendees hoping to speak out against Walker's plans were stymied by the meeting's true purpose of exploring the link between Minnesota and Milwaukee, possibly via Madison.
"I'm left scratching my head," said an audience member. "I attended the meetings about the [Madison to Milwaukee] high speed rail fairly regularly... and I don't recall Minnesota being a partner at that time."
The meeting was the sixth of seven planned throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. They're not hearings and public testimonies are not taken for the project. Donna Brown of the Wisconsin DOT was joined by Charles Quandel of Quandel Consultants LLC in answering questions.
"My motivation for coming here was to make sure that [Walker] sees that there are a lot of voices that are supportive of the project," said attendee Mike Fienen.
Brown assured audience members that, regardless of Walker's decision, rail plans can be shelved and used in the future. The money spent investigating rail opportunities -- which include approximately $300,000 from each state as well as $600,000 from ARRA funds -- was originally budgeted as part of the respective DOT's planning budgets.
Both the proposed Milwaukee-Madison line and the lines presented Tuesday are part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative which extends into Illinois. ARRA funds have already helped Illinois begin construction on high-speed projects, including a $1.2 billion high-speed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis and $244 million to upgrade a Detroit line. Though ARRA funds have only made the Madison to Milwaukee project a possible, short-term reality, the MHSRA has long worked towards a connection from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee and beyond.
But as far as the federal and state DOT is concerned, the project outlined Tuesday night, connecting Milwaukee with the Twin Cities, is in its infancy. These meetings represent only the second planned series of public involvement (PFD) initiatives drafted by Quandel consultants, with a final round of such meetings to be held after the selection of the best reasonable, feasible route. If all goes well, the draft of the plan will be approved by early 2012.