Thursday, June 7, 2007

Railophobia Spreads Throughout Milwaukee County Government

Fear of rail transit in Milwaukee has now spread to the office of the chairman of the county board, as Supervisor Lee Holloway has proposed spending all $91.5 million of frozen federal transportation dollars on buses.

And, worse, to build a commuter bus station, even though the new AMTRAK station in downtown Milwaukee is designed as a multi-modal transportation hub.

So the warped transportation planning for the region continues, sort of a Six Degrees of Separation that started with the late George Watts, a curmudgeonly downtown Milwaukee tea and gift shop owner who opposed light rail because it might move "strangers" to the suburbs.

From Watts, railophobia spread to conservtive AM talk radio host Mark Belling to County Executive Scott Walker, and now, regrettably, to Holloway, whose work is best when it counter-balances Walker.

That's because Walker's motivation in the transportation debate is to reflexively oppose anything progressive put up by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett - - whose proposals included a downtown trolley loop along with bus system additions.

We'll probably see Republican State Rep. Jeff Stone get back into the railophobic circle.

He's the mild-mannered Milwaukee County Executive-in-waiting from Greendale, and a force behind regional transportation schemes that exclude light rail or trolleys.

Holloway's plan, tossed into the mix, has the support of some County Board members, but an element of that backing is procedural and diplomatic, inside baseball.

Supervisors give Holloway leeway (that was not a pun) because he is their chairman; that doesn't mean that they will push his plan very far.

A transportation plan for the region that does not include urban rail will hurt the city and harm the region.

If the plan coordinates buses, commuter trains, and city trolleys or light rail, then the city and the region have a better chance of competing with other similar regions that offer a modern transportation mix that businesses, new residents, universities and tourist venues have come to expect.

UW-Milwaukee, if it is to become a major university, needs a light rail connection. Same thing for other institutions and destinations underserved by modern transit: Mitchell International Airport...Miller Park, the County Zoo...the research park...the Third Ward...the Menomonee Valley, etc.

So put Holloway's plan on a siding, and keep pressing county and regional officials to think modern and follow the city's lead - - whether trolleys pushed by Barrett, or the guided tram known as "The Connector," promoted by leading members of the Common Council - - because city officials know best what the city needs to complement and energize the region.

(Disclosure: my son Sam works for Ald. Michael D'Amato, a leading Council supporter of Milwaukee rail transit, and The Connector.)

1 comment:

Michael Horne said...

Interestingly, the anti-rail forces are gathering steam at the same time the public is being asked to finance parking structures for private developers -- or else!
From The Daily Reporter:
"The cost of building a parking structure makes it 'difficult if not impossible' to build unsubsidized office space, the report said."

Other cities with fixed rail systems (which is nearly every other city by now) have sensibly been able to reduce the number of parking spaces required for developments in the vicinity of rail. This reduces costs and generates construction, and puts TIF dollars to better use in the communities.
So, Milwaukee taxpayers have put much more than $91 million into transit projects. It's just that ours happen to be filled with automobiles. Manpower's parking garage cost us $27 million, for example. How foolish this will all seem once gasoline prices reach their true level.
If we spend the money on non-rail systems, our economy is even more doomed. We have lost over 1,500 young professionals earning over $100,000 per year since 2000. They've moved to real cities where they can take a train.

--Michael Horne

[See the Friedman report on Milwaukee Downtown Development, and related story by Sean Ryan in The Daily Reporter.]