A county committee on Tuesday night just barely rejected a motion to delay a vote on the release of $100 million in federal funding for a high-speed rail line.
Several members of the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board were angry that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation made many key decisions about the new rail line between Madison and Milwaukee without consulting members of the community and the board itself.
They complained that they were shut out of discussions regarding the location of the Madison train station. Last month, Gov. Jim Doyle announced that it would be at Monona Terrace.
WisDOT spokeswoman Donna Brown, in her opening remarks, said the department would be willing to meet with people "in their backyards." That drew a heated response from Sun Prairie Mayor Joe Chase, who said he has tried on multiple occasions to get a meeting in his city on the high-speed rail topic.
Chase urged his fellow committee members to delay their vote on accepting the $100 million in federal funding earmarked for Dane County, part of the $820 million total.
"I can't in any way support the funding at this point until I get a meeting in Sun Prairie," Chase said.
Brown said she "can't undo what was done before today." But she stressed that WisDOT will work with the committee and state residents in the future.
"I understand the level of frustration you have with the decisions that have been made to date," Brown said. "But, you know what, I am a servant of the state and I can only do what I can do. Right now, my marching orders are to get this project started. And I'd like to get it started with you there with me and with us working together."
The committee, which even its chairman called "little-known," saw an unusually large number of community members looking to have their voices heard.
While some were angry that the railway would affect their way of life in the rural areas of Dane County, others were concerned that the Monona Terrace location would increase congestion.
"We know we have transportation problems. We know we have extreme congestion. We know we have too many people driving and parking. What are we going to do about that?" said Lance Green of Madison's east side, who works near Monona Terrace. "There was no public input opportunity for this decision, and that's just not good Democracy."
After more than two hours of debate, a motion to postpone the decision to release the $100 million in funding failed 5-7. The board ultimately decided to release funding by a vote of 11-2.
WisDOT expects to have the line operational by 2013, with stops in Madison, Watertown, Oconomowoc, Brookfield, General Mitchell Airport and Downtown Milwaukee. The top speed will initially be 79 miles per hour. Upgrades will allow speeds of up to 110 miles per hour by 2015.