By Michelle Baik
Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 9:18 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:22 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she has recently spoken with “very enthusiastic” Amtrak officials as part of their 2035 vision to extend an existing route to Wisconsin’s capital.
As NBC15 reported in April, Amtrak released a map proposing the extension of the Hiawatha route, which would connect Madison to cities like Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis.
The project’s funding hinges on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which has been approved by the U.S. Senate but remains stuck in the House.
In her 2022 budget released last month, Rhodes-Conway set aside $120,000 to help plan for train service.
She said this week, “I will say that my capital budget includes funding for us to start to update some of the studies on station location and routing. We want to be ready, assuming the infrastructure bill does pass.”
Madison is no first-time contender. After the 2010 election, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker spiked Amtrak’s project in the capital city.
This time around, Rhodes-Conway assured, the conductor is different.
“I am hopeful that this time we have a governor who is actually enthusiastic about rail transit and, perhaps more importantly, a president that is enthusiastic about rail transit,” she said. “Madison has been on board the whole time, and so we really do need, particularly, the federal government but also the state government to join us in the efforts to bring a train here to Madison.”
“You’re not going to go anywhere unless you have buy-in it at the legislative level within Wisconsin,” Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of policy and government affairs at the Rail Passengers Association, said. The D.C.-based nonprofit “acts as a voice for Amtrak, commuter and transit passengers,” according to its website.
Jeans-Gail added, “Certainly Amtrak needs to play an active role. They want new customers for their service, and so they need to be a good, transparent and constructive partner in this process.”
Since 1971 Amtrak has been operating a station in Columbus, Wis., approximately 40 minutes outside Madison.
Based on discussions with Amtrak representatives, Matthew Schreiber, the city’s director of planning and development, said he does not expect the Columbus station to be impacted.
NBC15 also reached out to Amtrak for an interview Thursday, but a regional spokesperson declined.
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