The proposal for a new high-speed rail station on the east side of Madison’s downtown received a boost Thursday at a meeting of the city’s Downtown Coordinating Committee when the recommendation was unanimously approved.
The committee heard proposals from urban planning experts who said the proposed Yahara Station has the potential to serve in the future as a major intermodal hub.
Proposed functions for the station include a hub for Madison Metro Buses, a station on the proposed light rail link between Middleton, the University of Wisconsin campus and Sun Prairie and the location of new pedestrian and bicycle paths to downtown.
The committee also discussed the possibility of a station at the Dane County Regional Airport. Reactions to the station were mixed, with some Madison residents calling for more mass transit at the airport, which is currently served by one Madison Metro bus route.
Retired UW professor of American urban history Stan Schultz said a smaller platform for a short stop at the airport would be better than two major stations in a mid-sized city.
“Nobody ever went to an airport to catch a train,” Schultz said. “It’s a waste of money to put a new station out by the airport.”
Ald. Bryon Eagon, District 8, said the full Yahara Station proposal, including the light rail component, could reduce congestion in the downtown area. He also outlined the possible economic benefits of the station.
“I think the Yahara Station is a great opportunity to have a smart investment in not only transportation, but also economic development,” Eagon said. “Looking toward the future of the city and where we want to grow, [East Washington Avenue] has been targeted as one of our top priorities.”
The proposed station would sit at a currently vacant lot between the Yahara River, East Johnson Street, East Washington Street and First Street, where the main entrance would be located.
Barry Gore, an urban planner who showed the committee plans for the station, said the station would be 1.7 miles from the Capitol dome.
Gore also said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation decided not to put the high-speed rail connection on the isthmus because it would require a cumbersome transition when the trains switch directions.
He said the trains will also make intermediate stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.
Gore said the station has the potential to serve commuters who are affiliated with law firms, government organizations or banks that are based in both Madison in Milwaukee.
According to Royce Williams, a Madison area rail expert, the current federal government funding for the high-speed rail project would connect Madison and Milwaukee with Amtrak trains that reach speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.
Adam Johnson, chair of Legislative Affairs for Associated Students of Madison, was present at the meeting to report on student interest in the project.
Johnson said he has seen substantial support for the station, which would not even open until after most current UW students graduate.