WASHINGTON (CBS) —Amtrak won’t be linking Chicago with Madison, Wis., anytime soon. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that he would withdraw the $810 million awarded to Wisconsin, and similar grants to the state of Ohio, because of political opposition from incoming Republican governors.
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Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker pledged during his campaign to kill plans to upgrade the line between Chicago and Milwaukee, and restore passenger service between Milwaukee and Madison.
Walker wrote LaHood days after last month’s election, urging him to redirect the money to road repairs in Wisconsin instead.
LaHood instead, on Thursday, redirected the money to Illinois and 13 other states.
Illinois will get an additional $42 million as a result.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said the funding will help build a high-speed rail connection from Chicago to St. Louis through Springfield.
“It means that, for some part of this corridor — for example, they’re talking about the Joliet-to-Dwight aspect of it,” Durbin said. “There’ll be more investment making the rail crossings safer, with quad gates, for example; passing tracks so that passenger trains and freight trains can pull off to the side so they (high-speed trains) won’t be stopped for long periods of time.”
Lesser amounts will go to Iowa and Indiana, for use on lines that connect with Chicago.
The bulk of the money being redirected from Wisconsin and Ohio will go instead to California, $624 million; Florida, $342 million, and Washington, $161 million. Other states receiving lesser amounts include New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon and North Carolina.
Walker’s decision to kill the project will make it difficult for Illinois and Minnesota to fulfill their vision of 110-mile-an- hour trains linking Chicago with Minneapolis-St. Paul, a key segment of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, an effort by officials in nine states to create a network of fast, frequent trains.
Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle backed the 110-mile-an-hour rail project. saying it would create thousands of construction jobs and take thousands of people each month off of Illinois and Wisconsin roads.
“This is a tragic moment,” Doyle said in a statement. “We were positioned to be not only a center of the line but to be a manufacturing center as well. Now we are moving from being the leader to the back of the line.”
Train maker Talgo Inc., has already said it might move its manufacturing plant from Milwaukee south across the state line to Illinois if Wisconsin rejects the federal funding. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has encouraged the company to do so.
Wisconsin was supposed to host the construction of high-speed trains intended for use between Chicago and Madison and on other Amtrak routes. The future of that plant is now uncertain, and the city of Milwaukee is suing Walker.
“I have worked hard to move Wisconsin into the future,” Doyle said. “I obviously am deeply saddened to see us take a major step backward.”
Walker’s objections were not to the cost of construction of the line, which were to be paid entirely through the $810 million federal grant. He objected to the ongoing operating subsidies the line would require from the state of Wisconsin. Typically, the federal government has picked up 90 percent of that cost. If that were the case, the cost of operating the Milwaukee-Madison segment to the state of Wisconsin could have been as low as $750,000 a year.
LaHood reaffirmed his support for the high-speed rail initiative, saying in a statement that high-speed trains will not only improve transportation but reinvigorate manufacturing and put people back to work in jobs that pay well, as well.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) accused Walker of killing jobs in his home state “a month before he’s even been sworn into to office.”
Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts and Dave Dahl contributed to this report.