Wisconsin was shut out Monday in its bid for $150 million in federal money to upgrade the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line.
U. S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced 22 projects in 15 states would share $2 billion in federal high-speed rail money that had been rejected by Florida.
Wisconsin was seeking some of that money for train sets, locomotives and a maintenance base for the Hiawatha line. But while LaHood's announcement listed $268.2 million for other Midwestern states that had joined Wisconsin in the application, it made no mention of the Badger State.
Officials at the state and federal transportation departments confirmed no money would be awarded to Wisconsin. The federal agency had previously pulled an $810 million grant to the state after newly elected Gov. Scott Walker refused to use it to extend the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to Madison, a 110- mph stretch that would have been part of a larger plan to connect Chicago to the Twin Cities and other Midwestern destinations with fast, frequent trains.
In a telephone news conference, LaHood did not directly answer a question about whether Monday's decision was related to Walker's previous stand, which reversed 20 years of planning by predecessor administrations of both parties. But the transportation secretary repeatedly used the word "reliable" in characterizing the leadership of states selected for the latest round of grants.
"The announcements we're making today are with the strongest partners in America," LaHood told reporters.
"These are reliable people. These are people (who) have as one of their highest priorities the development of high-speed rail."
Walker is a Republican, as are the newly elected Florida and Ohio governors, who also rejected federally funded rail projects. LaHood is a former GOP congressman serving in Democratic President Barack Obama's administration. But several of the states that won high-speed rail grants Monday are led by Republican governors.
Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb voiced disappointment, saying in a written statement that "the state's applications were developed to support continued ridership growth and provide more reliable service. We remain committed to the Hiawatha as an important part of the state's transportation system. It's unfortunate the 800,000 passengers a year who use the Hiawatha service will not benefit from this latest distribution of federal funding."
Hiawatha ridership has more than doubled in the past eight years, to a record 792,848 in 2010, and is on track for another jump this year.
During the first four months of 2011, the trains provided 252,035 rides, up 7.8% from the same period last year. The service is strongly supported by the Milwaukee-area business community.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the decision "a disappointment" but "not a shock, given the attitude that Gov. Walker has displayed.
It's clear that the federal government wants to put these resources into states that are committed to high-speed rail. It was such a fiasco during the initial award period that the federal government doesn't want to go through that again."
The high-speed rail line to Madison was a key issue in the November gubernatorial campaign, with Barrett, the Democratic nominee, arguing the route would stimulate the state's economy. He lost that race to Walker, who opposed spending state tax money to operate the trains.
LaHood said the applications for this round of grants - from 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak, totaling $10 billion, or five times as much money as was available - show "there's a pent-up demand for highspeed rail in America.
This is what the people want" to escape crowded highways and rising gas prices.
"High-speed rail is coming to America. There's no going back," LaHood said. "I'm optimistic not just because I believe in it, but because America believes in it."