Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Throwing Away $91.5 Million: The Scott Walker Legacy

While the community is distracted by Brett Favre's retirement, let's not overlook the most important story in today's Journal Sentinel:

The bureaucratic SNAFU - - and let's hope that's all it is - - that has made $91.5 million in long-dormant federal transit funding for Milwaukee inaccessible.

The money is what's left from an initial earmark of $289 million for Milwaukee transit improvements.

$48.5 million was already removed years ago through inertia.

A subsequent city/county/state agreement dedicated some of the remaining money to a variety of projects, including the Sixth St. Bridge reconstruction and the Park East Freeway spur deconstruction.

But the remaining $91.5 million piece has been frozen in dispute, primarily because Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has balked at using it on one or more rail transit investments.

Now the feds are apparently confused about the money's availability: perhaps this gets sorted out, or perhaps not - - leading to a damaging defeat for Milwaukee's lower-income, transit-dependent multitude, but a twisted ideological victory for Walker.

After all, Walker has championed the Do Nothing approach to transit, except cutting routes and raising fares - - while refusing to allow the $91.5 million's injection into any transit improvement.

He's let the County system fall behind Madison and its growing ridership figures, along with national ridership trends, as gasoline prices increase.

With federal funding removed, Walker could achieve a rightwing trifecta - - pleasing his railophobic talk radio pals, burying the bus system, and harming its strong union.

As I pointed out in an earlier blog posting, Madison's transit system is booming because the public and private sectors there appreciate the value of transit to the local and regional economies.

Milwaukee's business leadership helped install Walker after the justified removal of Tom Ament from the county leadership.

Now it's time for the business community and the Journal Sentinel to cut their ties to Walker, and help get the city and county on the same page when it comes to investing in transit alternatives.

Without a fresh start, the feds have no incentive to help Milwaukee relocate and tap the transit financing that some elected officials are ignoring.

From the feds' perspective, that money might be better spent in the 25 other large urban markets where transit, especially rail, is expanding.

Grover Norquist - - the other Norquist - - once opined that government should be shrunk to the point where it could be drowned in a bathtub and made to disappear.

That's the Scott Walker strategy when it comes to transit - - not drowning it so much as chopping off enough pieces so what remains could be tossed into a dumpster.

It looks like he's winning.


Anonymous said...

We deserve what we get.
Milwaukeeans don't expect our leaders to innovate. We fear change and give the Mayor, Council, County, the thumbs sideways when one of the more enlightened of the bunch starts talking about transit.

It's a race to the bottom against Detroit.

Who will win?

Nick said...

And how much more was it going to cost to put in a rail system above $91 million? Another $300 million or something when you finally get to the end of the project?

That's the most expensive free money I've heard of.

James Rowen said...

Say, Nick;

Do you apply the same analysis to the $6.5 billion being spent to rebuild and expand the free(sic)way system?

Rail systems are investments that spur development along their lines and at stations, adding tax base and creating business.

Anonymous said...

Nick's comment is a perfect example of the mediocrity we are so in love with in Milwaukee.

A $300 million dollar INVESTMENT into a rail system would spur growth, improve the environment, etc.

No, let's just keep it the same craptastic way it is now.

Then we can keep complaining while other cities grow and leave us behind.

But hey, the economic engine that is the Bronze Fonz will take of care of all of these problems.


Bill said...

What a load of crap. The reason we have cars is that rails are completely inflexible. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there are migration patterns within metropolititan areas. How would a fixed rail account for those?

Convenient that you blame Walker for this, but the blame is actually on Barrett. The one common denominator in both of their plans was bus rapid transit, yet Barrett refused to just act on the common portion and instead insisted on an incredibly inane circulator.

It's 2008, not 1908. A rail line is no more of an investment in our future than a sliderule.

James Rowen said...

To Bill:

How is it that Norfolk, VA's planned light rail project has already spurred $220 million in retail, hotel and apartment investments along the line?

Norfolk is one third-the size of the City of Milwaukee.

Details here:

Anonymous said...

It is unblievable in this day and age that sane people would promote 19th century fixed steel rail street cars. Low cost electric "City Cars" will be available soon. They will offer convenient individual transportation. The reason bus ridership is falling is people don't want to walk for blocks and stand in cold weather waiting for a bus or street car. Furthermore electric cars can be charged at night with surplus electricity. Enviornmentally friendly. It's time to get our heads out of the sand and embrace 21st century technologies.

Dave said...

Nick> The local match is something like $16 million.

bill> I guess you haven't followed the massive amounts (in the Billions) of development that have sprung up along these new transit lines....

anon>Um even electric cars are not completely environmentally friendly. You have to pave more roads for more cars, cars need to park that requires more pavement, and of course there is creation and disposal of such cars. Further a push for mass transit isn't just to be "green" it has positive economic development impacts, it can and has reduced both Vehicle Miles Traveled and numbers of trips per day, it is simply more of an affordable option for many people.