Hundreds of Madison residents packed into a jammed conference room on Madison’s east side Tuesday to voice their concerns and ideas about high-speed rail systems in Wisconsin.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were both in attendance to support Madison residents who spoke in favor of the project.
The meeting focused on a study about the proposed passenger rail line between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.
Officials said they hoped the meeting would allow constituents to voice their concerns about the possible routes and their environmental impacts, Charles Quandel, President of Quandel Consultants, the association heading up the study, said.
The study is working to identify the best alternative transportation routes.
Although the study originally created 25 possible passenger rail routes, the Minnesota Department of Transportation had eliminated 15 options before Tuesday’s meeting. They hope to eliminate seven more options by February, Quandel said.
The meeting was the sixth public meeting throughout Wisconsin in the second round of planning. Quandel said the most important stakeholder in making decisions on how to best move forward with the plans is the pubic and encouraged continued attendance at future meetings.
The proposal of a high-speed system between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities is driven by the current transportation system’s limitations and the increased travel demand, Quandel said.
The study has found current modes of transportation do not meet the current demands and therefore impact the transportation system’s infrastructure, he added.
After collecting public feedback from across the state, the consulting firm plans to construct an analysis of “reasonable and feasible passenger alternatives,” based off of nine characteristics, Quandel said.
The project will soon be turned over to another unnamed consultant that will analyze the environmental impacts and the ridership feasibility more deeply, Quandel said. The firm will also look into a detailed assessment of the benefits created by each route.
The firm hopes to have engineering consultants provide guidelines by July 2011 with final approval around July 2012, Quandel said.
Because the Milwaukee-Twin Cities initiative has been led by the Minnesota DOT, Quandel said Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s threat to refuse $823 million in federal funding for high-speed rail is not a huge concern in the preliminary study.
The projects have been in work since before Wisconsin was offered the federal stimulus, and Minnesota will move forward with the plans with Wisconsin as a partner, Donna Brown, systems planning group manager for Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said.
“The $823 million [for Wisconsin] is just one piece of a national plan,” Brown said.
The initiative is part of a nine state plan to connect the Midwest with connections in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Brown also said funding for the study is independent of the federal funding and will therefore not end if Walker refuses the funds.
However, attendees questioned whether Walker should have attended the meeting as well and called attention to Wisconsin’s own high-speed rail initiative.
A third series of public meetings will be held in February when the Minnesota DOT has limited the feasible rail options to about three, Quandel said.