Thursday, July 19, 2007

Scott Walker Will Never Support City Rail: Move On Without Him

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board lays the blame at the doorstep of County Executive Scott Walker for preventing downtown Milwaukee from getting a downtown rail system.

That is fair criticism: even flying Walker by private jet to see the transportation and investment benefits of rail systems elsewhere in the US has failed to move Walker into a partnership with Mayor Tom Barrett, leading Barrett to consider moving on rail without the county executive's participation.

The paper says that's a bad idea.

I disagree.

If Walker remains county exec, continuing efforts to persuade, cajole, or reason with him on this issue are a fruitless waste of time.

And the more time that elapses due to Walker's intransigence, the higher the price tag on the rail system that will eventually be built because fuel prices and a growing number of downtown residents will mandate it.

The politics surrounding the issue make clear that Walker can't and won't bend, as the paper hopes he will, to support city rail because:

A) Walker is a Republican and Barrett is a Democrat, and Walker will not do much to help the Democratic mayor of the largest city and the Democratic voter base in the state.

B) Walker owes much of his successful campaigns to AM talk radio, on which "light rail" is a cheap, easy and potent ratings ploy.

Any candidate or official for light rail is immediately attacked, demonized, pilloried by the talkers, who use light rail to stir up their suburban listeners fears of big government and urbanites' easier access to towns, villages and subdivisions.

C) For Walker, supporting a rail system would be defined as a fatal flip-flop, so surviving in office and perhaps running for a higher position, such as Cong. Jim Sensenbrenner's seat, means treating trolley cars as if they were toxic.

It's also worth noting that the politics of transportation in the Milwaukee area mirror the politics of water.

(The same people and interests that support easy access by Waukesha County suburbs to Milwaukee water also support freeway expansion over transit extensions. It's a generalization, but the underpining is the same: Resources are to be pulled out of the city for the benefit of growth in the suburbs, but the reverse is never the case.)

Walker is in such an irrational box on transit of his own making that it leaves him opposed to more modern connections to county-run facilities, such as the zoo, the airport, and the research park.

And also stunting economic development - - jobs, tax base, commerce, residents - - along rail corridors and at stations - - the very thing that governments and businesses interests agree is the life-blood of a growing community.

Walker's inconsistenciese and failures are the penalties paid by narrow-minded ideologues when their reflexive politics collide with commonsense, but that's Scott Walker, and he's standing as an obstacle blocking modern transportation and economic development in Milwaukee.

Update: Another blogger, Mobile's Take, offers good data on rail and development, here.


Dave said...

Yea we should all thank Scott Walker for holding back Milwaukee. For turning down the huge amounts of investment that other cities have seen along transit lines. Thank you Scott because as you know we don't want to move Milwaukee forward!

Anonymous said...

The idea is attacked because it is moronic. I have yet to hear a explanation of the benefits. Whenever 45 million taxpayer daollars are being spent there should be a worthwhile benefit. perhaps you could explain them to me because they appear to be nonexistent.\
Please do not tell me the good things about light rail in general . I want to hear how this route proposed is worth spending
so much money.
Bythe way I form my own opinions so do not defend your position with the arguement that "talk radio" has infected me

James Rowen said...

Actually, the attempt at irony aside, the second Anon. is right: Walker IS holding Milwaukee back.
More data at this blog:

Dave said...

Um along Portlands streetcar line something like 2 BILLION dollars worth of development has occurred. I'd say that's worth 45 million bucks. I'll take that kind of retun on my investment anytime.

James Rowen said...

To Dave: The funny thing about the development/jobs/investment argument is that it's classic Republican growth philosophy - - but Walker has to reject it because of his talk radio, anti-Milwaukee suburban base.

That's what ideology does to reason: just destroys it.

Steve Branca said...

Talk radio is an pernicious and toxic blight on civil discourse. I'm sure all of its listeners think they're independent thinkers. And maybe they are. If so, then talk radio is just (low brow) entertainment, much like cock fighting, and the hosts are nothing but clowns pretending to have political insight. But that aside...

Anonymous asks for specifics on the KRM project. He is welcome to call Sewrpc and ask them. They do the studies. He can also consult Transit Now. There is plenty of data - reams and reams of it - on the benefits of the project. The Feds don't approve funding without a detailed justification. You can get similar data from many other existing systems, most or all of which exceded their pre-construction projections. I just wonder if Anon. has asked for similar justification for the $6 BILLION freeway expansion plan. If not, why not?

Who are the people who say $45 million to transport tens of thousands of people on an energy- and land-efficient system, in an era of skyrocketing energy costs, is "moronic," but accept a $6 billion bill for freeways like a basket of spayed puppies?

Whenever someone who purports to engage in a serious debate describes his opposition as morons, I hear echoes of talk radio and its smarmy tactics of belittlement, smugness and phony self-righteous outrage. The right has done a great job of polarizing all debate with such tricks, to the benefit of none and the detriment of many. Shame on any politician who lets himself be moved by such dreck. Shame on anyone who thinks ridicule is a form of patriotic expression.

Jim, maybe you should adopt a policy to not post any comment that isn't signed. Just a thought.

James Rowen said...

Thanks for the comment, Steve. Solid arguments: highway spending is acceptable, regardless of the cost. Rail spending is "moronic." Go figure.

I do allow anonymous comments, but I've rejected a few because they were profane. Otherwise, free speech rules. Some leading rightwing bloggers don't allow comments, period, so we're more democratic on this side of the debate.