Turning Down Federal Rail Money Leaves State Taxpayers on the Hook

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 8:09 PM by

A year ago, Wisconsin turned down a federal grant for high-speed rail. Now, a new memo shows that Wisconsin taxpayers have incurred or will incur between $65 and $84 million in costs that would have been covered by the federal grant. This leaves the state with fewer resources to shore up Wisconsin’s transportation system.

The grant for high-speed rail is part of the $1.3 billion in federal money that Wisconsin has bypassed, summed up in a new report from the Wisconsin Budget Project. That report found that state budget cuts or incomplete funding of state programs meant Wisconsin did not capture an additional $506 million of federal funds that were available over the current biennium. In addition, Wisconsin turned down $803 million in two large federal grants, including the grant for high-speed rail.

Here are the state rail costs that would have been picked up by the federal government had Wisconsin not turned down the grant:

  • An estimated $40.5 to $59.5 million for the construction of a permanent maintenance facility for two sets of passenger cars state purchased for use with high-speed rail service;
  • $12.2 million for maintenance equipment and a temporary maintenance facility in Milwaukee for the passenger car sets;
  • $10.2 million in improvements to the downtown Milwaukee train station; and
  • $2.5 million in design engineering for a permanent maintenance facility

There may be additional unreimbursed costs for engineering work that was done on the project before the grant was declined.

In a time of severe budget cuts, Wisconsin needs to make full use of every dollar available. By declining the grant for the train, Wisconsin policymakers turned down an offer by the federal government to make a considerable investment in Wisconsin’s transportation system, and left Wisconsin taxpayers responsible for additional costs.

Tamarine Cornelius

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