My Wisconsinite boss for the summer over at the Congress for the New Urbanism, Stephen Filmanowicz, tweeted about this a few days ago, so a big H/T to him. Madison, WI is one of the major cities to be part of the Midwest HSR project, but a number of activists are uncomfortable about the idea of having the city’s sole train station be at the regional airport outside of town. One man in particular is raising a fuss, much to the ire of many government leaders, who don’t want the city’s chances of getting federal HSR money to be put in jeopardy. From the Madison Capital Times:
Shorter travel times were a key factor in 2002 when officials with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sent a letter to then-Mayor Sue Bauman, saying a “single airport station best serves the interests of the Madison community and the overall service goals of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.”
City of Madison officials initially balked at the decision and at one point talked about pursuing two train stations: one at Monona Terrace and another on the east side. But eventually the issue faded as rail dollars failed to materialize, gasoline prices fell, and talk of trains went to the back burner.
With federal rail money looking likely, however, the question over station location has come up again — much to the chagrin of some state and local officials who were hoping to keep things quiet to avoid any last-second controversy.
One initial problem identified with a station downtown at Monona Terrace was the need to back trains out to rejoin the main line, adding 30 minutes to the trip and creating traffic snarls downtown. But the Yahara Station plan avoids that hang-up by sticking to the mainline route, eliminating the need for trains to reverse course out of the downtown.
Even the mayor is backing the airport site, stating that there might be two stations for the city in the future. I don’t think that’s going to appeal to Amtrak and Midwest HSR planners, who are going to want to limit the stops to keep travel times down. The whole airport vs. downtown station discussion is one we’ve featured before on TFA. On one hand, one of the biggest benefits of good passenger rail is the downtown-to-downtown connectivity that is convenient for passengers and good for local economies. On the other hand, connections with other modes of transport, including air travel, are also important, particularly if airlines are to be convinced that they stand to benefit from improved train service.
And the pragmatists have a point that it would be a shame to muck up a bid for federal HSR money. But that’s not a good enough reason to not think ahead when placing critical infrastructure. Connectivity is going to be key. If the station ends up being placed at the airport, they need to make sure that there are convenient connections to downtown and vice versa if the urban location is chosen. Taxis don’t count. And the article mentions commuter rail; it would be extremely shortsighted of the city to place this intercity station without an eye to how it could connect to local rail service in the future.
A sticky issue to be sure. Thoughts?