Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Commuter Rail Plan Takes Another Hit

Squabbles over funding have pushed the always-tenuous starting date for the Milwaukee-area commuter rail plan to 2012 from 2010.

Readers of this blog will not be taken by surprise: repeatedly, I have highlighted the imbalance in this region between highway funding - - automatic, expanding, without real public input, let alone a vote - - and rail funding, which, while less expensive than highway projects, is virtually non-existent.

And is being held hostage by demands from opponents that implementation occur through referenda, new agencies, and higher taxes.

The $6.5 billion freeway modernization and expansion plan, on the other hand, got launched and in the ground for a 25-30-year run. without referenda, the creation of any new bureaucracies or added taxes.

The state transportation department simply gave the regional planning commission a $1 million planning grant (tax money, by the way) and said, 'go draw up a new highway plan.'

Not a transportation plan, since the plan is highways only - - including 120 miles of new lanes, plus some new interchanges and other upgrades.

Then the transportation department accepted the plan - - since it paid for it - - and after a few community meetings where the fancy new designs were displayed, which is always among the final steps in this fake dance of public input, the checks were cut and the bulldozers started running.

First the Marquette Interchange: $810 million. Later this year, $1.9 billion starts to flow south from Milwaukee to the Illinois line while more millions are being spent on a faster-track to re-design the Zoo Interchange west of Milwaukee.

But to get the commuter rail line moved forward from Milwaukee to Racine to Kenosha, with connections to Chicago's METRA line - - well...we need new laws, new agencies, new taxes, and some referenda, to boot.


I worked in government for many years.

And I covered government for some more years, too, as a reporter, and I know that these tactics...calling for new laws, agencies, taxes, referenda - - are all bureaucratic strategies to make sure things don't happen.

They are stalling and obstruction tactics, and with the long-discussed commuter rail plan now completely entangled in them, the opponents are succeeding.

For the highway lobby, and their allies in state government, it's a big win, even though they could get just as rich building, maintaining and operating trains as the do building and rebuilding highways.

The losers will be the motorists caught in orange-barrel lane closures from Milwaukee south to Illinois from this year to 2016, idling their pricey gasoline into the atmosphere.

Like the rest of us in southeastern Wisconsin, the state offers no choices, choices.

For the region, it's a big loss.


Anonymous said...

Are peoples eyes glued shut? What about our sec of transportation who is supposedly a rail supporter raising holy heck about this. Gas is now $3.15 a gallon and going up at this low demand time, so how are you going to like idling away $4.00 a gallon plus gas in the construction zone without an alternative?

It is also time for SEWRPC to re-do their studies based on the realities of peak oil. The $2.30 a gallon gas is way out the window!

The pro-highway, anti-rail oil apologists would scream bloody murder as a waste of taxpayer dollars, however, to change course now.

James Rowen said...

Well said. Remember that the comment period on the no-rail $1.9 billion highway upgrade to Illinois along I-94 is still open. I will repost the link after the NH voting is over.