Tuesday, May 27, 2008

With Spiking Gas Prices, Barrett's Transit Message Resonates

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett again makes the case for modern transit in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker remains the major local obstacle, but the logjam could be broken by Gov. Jim Doyle if he redirected to commuter rail, from Kenosha to Milwaukee, the $200 million ticketed for a new I-94 lane to and from Milwaukee south to Illinois.

I-94 would still get its reconstruction, but not the expansion - - a pure gift to the highway lobby that is not justified by the expansion plan's documentation.

The state should also connect the new Intermodal station downtown to the Connector local rail system proposed by Barrett, and to an upgraded network of hybrid buses and other improvements that both Barrett and Walker support.

That would elevate transit construction as a state priority - - not equaling what the state does for the highway industry, because that would be too much to expect - - but the state can genuinely making modern rail transit a significant transportation and economic development activity.

The rail lines and stations would spur development and solidify the downtown, Third Ward, Pabst City project, King Dr., the Park East corridor and other neighborhoods that have seen growth but could stall if the auto-dependent economy stagnates.

Local Milwaukee business leaders have begun to step up their advocacy for rail, led by Michael Cudahy. Barrett has a logical plan, and the economic benefits associated with rail investments are ubiquitous.

With gas prices spiking, and suburban sprawl producing housing that is too expensive for auto-dependent commuters to afford, it makes overwhelming sense today for the state to begin to shift more public revenue investments to transit and road maintenance and steer away from new, costly and unsustainable highway expansions.

But without state leadership and policy initiatives, the paradigm will be slow to shift, and our one-dimensional transportation reality in Milwaukee will remain a bus system lurching towards collapse.

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