State temporarily halts work on train project

Barrett hints that legal action could ensue if halt becomes permanent
By Larry Sandler and Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The state Department of Transportation has told contractors on the high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee to stop work on the federally funded project “for a few days,” in the wake of rail opponent Scott Walker’s victory in the governor’s race, Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said Thursday.

But contractors immediately started talking about laying off employees, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett hinted the city could consider legal action if a permanent shutdown of the line shortens the life of a Spanish-owned train manufacturing plant on the city’s north side.

“At the governor’s request, I have asked contractors and consultants working on the high speed rail project to temporarily interrupt their work for a few days,” Busalacchi said in a written statement, referring to outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

“In light of the election results, our agency will be taking a few days to assess the real-world consequences, including the immediate impacts to people and their livelihoods, if this project were to be stopped.”

The move follows Tuesday’s election of Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, as governor. During the campaign, Walker, a Republican, repeatedly vowed to kill the planned $810 million train line. He will take office Jan. 3.

Even with the federal government picking up the line’s full construction cost, Walker has said he doesn’t want state taxpayers to pay operating costs, projected at $7.5 million a year, starting in 2013. A state transportation official has said state taxpayers’ share could be as little as $750,000 a year, if federal aid covers 90% of operating costs, as it does for Amtrak’s existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line.

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