Doyle Obligated $67 million to Rail

Contracts show how far along planning had progressed for Wisconsin's high-speed rail line before it was halted.

Outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle's administration signed more than $67 million in contracts for a planned high-speed rail line, with the largest one coming just a week before rail opponent Scott Walker was elected to replace the Democratic incumbent, state records show.

The number indicates how far along the administration had moved toward beginning construction and how much money was already at stake for contractors working on the project. Although only about $9 million of that money had been spent, Doyle has said cancellation fees and other contractual commitments will cost state taxpayers $5.25 million.

Meanwhile, rail supporters are increasing pressure on Walker to reverse his decision to stop plans for a Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger train route, with labor, environmental and community groups holding six simultaneous rallies Saturday and another next week.

The Republican governor-elect isn't budging.

The state won $810 million in federal stimulus funding for the route, which would be an extension of Amtrak's existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha route. Plans call for service to start in 2013, with six round trips daily at a top speed of 79 mph, increasing to a top speed of 110 mph by 2015. Eventually, the route could be extended to the Twin Cities, as part of a Midwestern network of fast, frequent trains.

State and federal officials signed four grant agreements to obligate spending of the stimulus cash. They publicly announced the first two grants - $5.8 million in May and $46.5 million in July - for planning and engineering.

With that $52.3 million in spending authority, the state signed contracts totaling $38.7 million with 18 firms.

Among those contracts, the biggest went to HNTB Corp., a Kansas City engineering firm, $16.8 million; Aon Risk Services Central Inc., a Chicago insurance company, $9.4 million; Teng & Associates Inc., a Chicago architecture and engineer- ing firm, $7.2 million; and CH2M Hill, a Colorado engineering firm, $4.1 million. All four have Wisconsin operations.

Another 14 companies landed smaller contracts.

The next two grant agreements weren't publicly announced.

State and federal officials confirmed the deals only after the Journal Sentinel learned of them.

One agreement, for $50 million on Oct. 27, covered initial bridge work. State transportation officials quickly signed a $28.5 million contract with Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc., a construction company in Plain, only to put it and the other contracts on hold the day after the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election.

The final deal, signed the Sunday before the election, included all of the remaining $707.7 million. Unlike the first three, the last agreement lists numerous contingencies, preventing the state from spending money on various parts of the project until specific planning activities are completed and approved by federal rail officials.

Based on the last deal, the state awarded - but didn't sign - an $18.1 million contract to C.D. Smith Construction Inc. of Fond du Lac to renovate the train shed at Milwaukee's downtown Amtrak-Greyhound station. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie has said the transition team is reviewing all the figures connected to the project.

A state transportation official did not return calls seeking comment.

State officials have previously said they were following properly authorized directives from Doyle, the Legislature and the federal government to move forward with the rail project.

Multiple rallies for rail Labor, environmental and community groups in support of the rail project are holding the rallies in the wake of a labor-backed rally that drew more than 200 people to the Talgo Inc. train manufacturing plant in Milwaukee on Monday.

The Sierra Club is joining with other environmental and transit advocacy groups to hold rallies at noon Saturday in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh and Watertown, as part of a "statewide day of action to save the train." The Milwaukee rally will be at the downtown Amtrak-Greyhound station.

Also in Milwaukee, the state AFL-CIO will return to the Talgo plant, at the former Tower Automotive site on the north side, for a candlelight vigil, co-sponsored by Citizens Action and Voces de la Frontera, at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

That's not impressing the Walker team. Walker's transition director, John Hiller, responded: "The Madison-Milwaukee train line is dead. Wisconsin taxpayers will not be on the hook for multi-million-dollar ongoing operating subsidies because of Governor-elect Walker's efforts to stop this boondoggle." After subtracting fare revenue, state transportation officials say the route would cost $7.5 million a year to operate. But if federal aid covers 90% of costs, as it does for the Hiawatha, the state share would be $750,000 a year, they say.

Statements of support for the train line also came from Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines Jr., U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, the Atkinson-Capitol-Teutonia Business Improvement District and the Minnesota AFLCIO. All urged Walker to consider how his actions would affect jobs and development.

Playing off Walker's own slogan, Hines said, "Support for this project will show the nation and the world that Wisconsin truly is open for business, because an investment in high-speed rail is an investment in business." Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, said Walker's decision would isolate the state from the national rail network.

The neighborhood group said the arrival of Spanishowned Talgo had brought a much-needed economic boost to its north side area, which could be lost if Talgo follows through on a warning that it could pull out in 2012, taking as many as 125 jobs with it, if the train line is killed. And the Minnesota labor organization said it was concerned that Walker's stand would endanger rail funding and economic development in its state, because of the potential impact on the planned Chicago-to-Twin Cities route.

Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

"The Madison-Milwaukee train line is dead. Wisconsin taxpayers will not be on the hook for multi-million-dollar ongoing operating subsidies because of Governor-elect Walker's efforts to stop this boondoggle." John Hiller, Walker's transition director

Copyright, 2010, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.