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Busalacchi: DOT secretary says intermediate high-speed rail stations 'irrelevant'

The state will have spent roughly $300 million on the Milwaukee-to-Madison rail line by the end of the year, state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi (left) says.

With local officials raising concerns about costs, he also said the project can move forward without them if necessary. He added that a major contract will be let in October

“We're not going to sit still; this is a federal project,” Busalacchi said Sunday on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” a statewide TV newsmagzine produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com.

Both Republican candidates for governor have said they'd kill the $810 million, federally funded project if elected, even if that means the state would incur costs from canceling it.

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who appeared separately on the program, said it's “a little cloudy” what would have to be done to kill the line, but suggested the Legislature could reverse a Joint Finance Committee move that transferred the funds from federal to state control.

“This is a huge federally driven project that needs to be stopped,” Fitzgerald said, arguing the state doesn't have the money in the transportation fund to pay for maintenance and operating costs he pegged at $13 million to $16 million annually.

Fitzgerald was critical of Gov. Jim Doyle, his administration and the feds for pushing the project so hard and said if the money is wasted because the project is stopped, “it certainly is something that once again would demonstrate how wasteful some of these stimulus dollars are.”

Fitzgerald called the project “a disastrous governmental operation” that is pitting communities against each other and one that “could turn into a major boondoggle.”

On his recent decision to pull a planned station for Oconomowoc off the table, Busalacchi said he tried to arrange a meeting with the Oconomowoc City Council to address concerns, but “their mayor said they had more important things to do.”

Oconomowoc officials have said they were mystified by the state’s decision and insistence that they opposed a rail stop in their community.

Said Busalacchi: “We're moving on.”

Brookfield officials have also raised concern about the local share of costs for building and maintaining a planned station there. Busalacchi said the state has been working with communities to answer their questions and is willing to help with costs. But he also noted intermediate stops are not needed.

“Whether we have these intermediate stations or not is irrelevant,” he added. “We can do this project without those stations if we have to.”

Also on the program, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, author of "The Promise: President Obama, Year One," said said Obama's sagging approval ratings are largely due to the economy, but also because he's struggled to communicate effectively and connect with the middle class.

Watch the program here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/24719388/detail.html .

- By David Wise



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