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Madison - May 2007

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Madison, WI — Streetcar Vs. Commuter Rail

Rail Transit Online, May 2007

A controversy over priorities between proponents of streetcars and commuter rail may end up delaying both projects.  Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who has been pushing a $58-million, four-mile (6.4 km) downtown streetcar system, wants to put the brakes on the commuter rail proposal so both modes can be jointly developed.  But Dane County officials, who are behind regional rail, have rejected the idea.  “The mayor is out of sync with the broader community here,” Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk told the Wisconsin State Journal.  “There's been this collaborative effort going on called Transport 2020, which he has been a part of, but he broke off of that process to create a separate streetcar study.”  The Transport 2020 task force has been working on a rail transit proposal for a decade and will soon select a commuter route as part of an effort to obtain grants from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program.  However, the streetcar won’t be ready to apply for federal funding for another two or three years. 

City planner David Trowbridge, who’s involved with both schemes, said he wants to prevent them from becoming competitive or from being linked because that might jeopardize support from Washington.  “What I'm trying to do is keep both moving forward,” Trowbridge told the Wisconsin State Journal.  “They’re both needed for a strong redevelopment scheme of the central city.  Let's move forward one step at a time.”  The two candidate routes for commuter rail both run east from Middleton through downtown Madison to either Sun Prairie or to the Dane County Regional Airport.  The cost, according to a study conducted by consultants HNTB Corp., would be up to $285 million.  The federal government would pay 50 percent of the capital cost, with the remainder coming from state and local governments.  “Our cost of ridership numbers compare very well to other projects approved by the FTA,” Transport 2020 Co-Chairman Scott McDonell told The Capital Times.  “We are now at the point where we can go to the federal government with a plan that's very detailed and we feel will be received favorably.”  County officials hope to have trains running by 2011. 


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