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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Business leaders in Milwaukee, Madison differ on train

From an article by Jason Stein in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison - Milwaukee business leaders are showing little public opposition to Governor-elect Scott Walker's plans to stop a Milwaukee to Madison passenger rail line while some business leaders in Madison are trying to revive the $810 million federally funded project.

One reason for that difference: Milwaukee already has the successful Amtrak Hiawatha line connecting the city to the Midwest business powerhouse of Chicago while Madison residents would need the Milwaukee line to have a rail connection to the Windy City.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said that his members are much more focused on seeing what Walker can do to balance the state budget, lower or hold down taxes and refocus Wisconsin's strategy to grow businesses. Supporting the passenger rail line - or actively opposing the newly elected governor on the issue - just isn't a priority, he said.

"Quite frankly, our focus was on ensuring that we had that (Hiawatha) connection to Chicago for lots of reasons. (The Madison line has) been more of a nice-to-have discussion than a need-to-have discussion in the business community in southeastern Wisconsin," Sheehy said Wednesday. "In a sense, why beat a dead train?"

But in Madison, business leaders do see more of a benefit to the connection to Chicago. The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has gone on record supporting the project.

Kevin Conroy, president and chief executive officer of the Madison biotech company Exact Sciences Corp., has been seeking to revive support for the passenger rail line. Conroy is no stranger to politics - he briefly considered running for governor last year as a Democrat before bowing out to let Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett run unopposed.

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