Sunday, February 18, 2007

Barrett Streetcar and Bus Plan Needs Regional Support

Mayor Tom Barrett has energized and redefined the Milwaukee area's long-stalled transit debate by proposing a three-mile downtown trolley loop, and two cross-city express bus lines targeted at workers and UW-M students.

His plan would use existing federal grants and other infrastructure for the system's launch, and keeps it off the property tax.

It would be tied to the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee suburban commuter train and to AMTRAK, which, in turn, already stops at Mitchell International Airport as part of the Milwaukee-Chicago run.

In other words, the Barrett plan would offer something new for workers, commuters, students, downtown retail customers and visitors to major tourist destinations. And break the logjam over transit expansion in Milwaukee - - a delay that has whittled away the buying power of the city's federal transit money.

So who doesn't like it?

The usual do-nothing-for Milwaukee suspects.

County Executive Scott Walker, married to right-wing talk radio, ripped the plan as a light rail stalking horse, though it is designed to funnel riders to the county-run bus system.

It would also carry riders to the County's parks and zoo.

Walker's reflexive opposition to a transit upgrade for the county he governs - - more as a placeholder until Cong. Jim Sensenbrenner vacates his seat - - shows how dizzied a politician can get from self-generated spin.

Beyond Walker's sadly predictable and uncooperative intransigence, one major question looms over this plan.

Will the much ballyhooed "Milwaukee Seven" regional development consortium support it?

The so-called M-7 has yet to address the comprehensive development initiative that Gov. Doyle put in his 2007-'09 budget for Milwaukee.

Will the M-7 come out assertively for these encouraging plans to help make Milwaukee, the state's only major urban center, a better performing state asset?

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