Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tommy Thompson, Fearing Talk Radio, Killed Milwaukee Light Rail in 1997

Just for the record...let's remember that in 1997, it was then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, The Man Who Loved Trains And Later Yearned To Be US Secretary of Transportation, who killed his administration's light rail plan for Milwaukee.

Had Tommy stood up to the local conservative talk radio hosts who still use "light rail" as an all-purpose anti-urban code phrase, workers and students commuting from Waukesha could be riding the rails with some of that $4-gallon gas money in their pockets.

Hundreds of thousands of riders a year would be taking the train to Miller Park.

New stations would be on the drawing board in advance of construction-hell in the Zoo Interchange coming for four years beginning in 2012.

With light rail leading the way, the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line would also be operating, because the public, enamored of rail's conveniences in the city, and to the west, would also have wanted, demanded, a rail option to the south - - especially as they are looking at eight years of construction from the Mitchell Interchange all the way to Illinois on I-94.

And downtown would be serviced by both systems, connecting at the new InterModal station, then branching across the city to the airport and the suburbs, as is happening in many cities nationally.

Saint Tommy, Patron Saint of Wisconsin Rail.

Or, Prescient Tommy, who could have wowed us with his knowledge of Peak Oil and sustainability.

Coulda had the last word. Coulda been right as rain.

Or been Courageous Tommy, brave enough to speak the truth to big talkers.

And definitely been The Genuinely Conservative Tommy, which is what he claimed to have been in the early presidential primaries - - conservative... as in conservator of resources, and provider of choices.

The visionary who took on the state's highway-only, overly-expensive one-dimensionality - - and won. For the public.

But Tommy was too interested in playing it safe, sticking to the script, and sticking it to Milwaukee, too.

First he cut off funding to the plan his very own transportation department created - - "not one nickel" was the administration's oh-so-cheap slogan in retreat - - then signed a state budget into law that made it illegal to spend any state money for further study of light rail in Milwaukee.

Madison, legal.

Kenosha, legal - - and trolleys are running in the downtown there again.

But for Milwaukee: do a little study...do a little time.

A little more spine, a little more chutzpah, and Tommy could be playing The Greeter In the Engineer's Cap out on the platform at New Berlin, or in the Valley, or downtown, gettin' hugs and slappin' high-fives and takin' all the credit for doin' the impossible and makin' rail transit happen in Milwaukee.

All the plaudits for the business development and infrastructure investment and job creation that would have made the whole darn Milwaukee 7 region hum - - all that would be his, and deserved.

Hell, Milwaukee'd probably by now have given Tommy a medal

But Tommy made sure the train stayed stalled, and in doing so, lost his opportunity for a signal, historic achievement.

Missed also is the opportunity, our collective community opportunity, to have been - - for once - - ahead of the curve, leading in transit and energy savings and in cleaner air.

Leading by example. by been prepared for problems rather than scrambling for solutions, and worse, now having Scott Walker, a Tommy creation, presiding over the slow demise of Milwaukee County's struggling bus system.

Tommy could have helped put Milwaukee on the road to greatness in the 21st century - - a more vibrant city at the center of a prosperous region - - with the right resources in place at the right time to handle this new and tougher economy.

Tommy blew it.


Anonymous said...

In an Oct 25, 2007 Special to OnMilwaukee.com (you can Google it), Steve Jagler noted that conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich authored a 1999 study which concluded that most light rail systems were successful. Tommy Thompson wrote the forward, citing the anticipated benefits of rail transit for "working people."

In his piece, Jagler called for "an honest, thorough, objective discussion and analysis of all of our regional transportation options - once and for all - wherever that may lead."

progressisgood said...

It`s ignorant people like Tommy Thompson and Scott Walker that makes Milwaukee unattractive to the rest of the world.