TRANSPORTATION:

Obama admin threatens to take back Wis. rail money

The Obama administration is urging Wisconsin's incoming Republican governor, Scott Walker, to reconsider his opposition to high-speed rail in his state and threatened to rescind $810 million in federal stimulus grants for the project if the venture is killed.

In a letter to Walker yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood discussed what he called a "difference of opinion about the value of a Midwest high-speed rail network" between the Obama administration and the incoming governor, emphasizing economic benefits that high-speed rail could bring to the region.

Walker, who is currently the county executive of Milwaukee County, campaigned heavily against a proposed high-speed line to link Milwaukee and Madison that would eventually be part of a Midwest network. Decrying the project as a waste of tax dollars, he has called for the cash to be redistributed to highway and bridge repairs in his state.

But LaHood said the stimulus grants must be spent on rail projects.

"None of the money provided to Wisconsin may be used for road or highway projects, or anything other than high-speed rail," LaHood wrote. "Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin's project so that we do not waste taxpayers' money."

Walker's office did not return calls for comment by press time.

In what is sure to be the first in a flurry of requests, New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo (D) asked that some of rail funds rejected by Wisconsin go to New York. Officials from Illinois have also expressed interest in getting that money.

Last week, outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) shut down work on the project. Doyle issued a statement yesterday explaining that while he supports the line, it could continue only if the incoming governor agreed to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"To me, it doesn't make sense to not move ahead, but we have had an election," Doyle said. "There has been a lot of politics played with this issue, but I have to deal in the real world and think about how this affects real jobs and the real lives of people in Wisconsin."

Doyle added that the "shovel ready" lines would have employed more than 400 people.

Trouble for Ohio rail plan

Separately, incoming Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) asked incumbent Ted Strickland (D) to stop work on the state's 3C Passenger Rail Plan in "the most cost-effective manner possible."

Kasich wrote letters to both Strickland and President Obama stating his opposition to the project, which has received $400 million in federal grants and is intended to connect Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

"At a time when Ohio is facing an approximately $8 billion budget shortfall, every step should be taken to eliminate waste and prevent unnecessary spending," Kasich wrote to Strickland. "While there are remaining legal issues concerning the contracts themselves and the funds appropriated in execution of these contracts, in light of the fact that they allow for their termination without the state incurring their full cost, the sooner that you terminate them the more money Ohioans will save."

Strickland rejected Kasich's call, saying a $25 million review was already under way and that work would continue as planned until Kasich takes office in January.

Click here to read LaHood's letter.

Click here to read Kasich's letter to Strickland.

Click here to read Kasich's letter to Obama.

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