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April 05, 2011

Wisconsin's Walker seeks some of rail funds he turned down

Hiawatha

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who late last year rejected federal funding for high speed rail projects, is now one of several governors requesting a portion of the $2.4 billion in rail money Florida turned down in February — some of which came from Wisconsin.

Before Walker became nationally known for his effort to strip state public employees of collective bargaining rights, he campaigned against an $810 million high speed rail project between Milwaukee and Madison in last year's election.

Now he wants $150 million to improve service and add trains on Amtrak's Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha line. (A Hiawatha train is pictured above, leaving Chicago for Milwaukee in 2008.)

After Walker and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich took office, they both returned federal rail grants to the Department of Transportation.

DOT then awarded the funds to Florida, to help complete its planned Orlando-Tampa high speed project. However, newly elected Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who hadn't taken a position on the project in last year's campaign, also rejected the money.

Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that the new request isn't a reversal.

"This is not inconsistent with the position I took in the past," he said.

States had until Monday to submit their requests for the funds Florida returned. The Department of Transportation said a full list of states that applied would be available Wednesday. However, several already announced their requests by Monday's deadline.

  • California: $2.4 billion, to extend the first segment of a planned high-speed line in the Central Valley. When complete, it would link San Francisco to Los Angeles.
  • Missouri: $1 billion, to upgrade existing service between St. Louis and Kansas City, and begin planning for a separate high-speed line between the two cities.
  • New York: $517 million, for several projects, including upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, the New York-Albany-Buffalo Empire Corridor and the Moynihan Station in Midtown Manhattan.
  • Maryland: $415 million, to replace aging bridges on the Northeast Corridor, add new track and redevelop the station at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.
  • Wisconsin: $150 million, to reduce travel times between Chicago and Milwaukee to an hour from 90 minutes, add new trains and build a maintenance facility for the equipment.
  • Washington: $120 million, to add two daily roundtrips on the Cascades corridor between Seattle and Portland, Ore., and improve track and signal systems.

In addition to the state requests, Amtrak is asking for $1.3 billion to modernize the Northeast Corridor, the country's busiest passenger train route. The funds would be used to boost speeds between Philadelphia and New York, replace a century-old bridge in New Jersey and do preliminary engineering and environmental work for two new tunnels under the Hudson River into Manhattan. 

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